Like last year, the Patriots have multiple starters entering free agency or contemplating retirement (yes, I’m looking at you, Rob Gronkowski). Key contributors on both sides of the ball are looking to get massive contracts in the offseason, and, although some have expressed their desire to return to the Patriots, it is impossible to bring back everyone. Patriots free agents include the likes of Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, Jason McCourty, Chris Hogan, and Cordarrelle Patterson. The Patriots also reportedly intend to pursue a big-name wideout and have been linked to names like Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, although Pittsburgh has also expressed its desire to trade Brown to the NFC (San Francisco, Green Bay, etc.). Here's a look at each key free agent the Patriots will have to re-sign.
DE Trey Flowers
Flowers has been a major part of what the Patriots and Bill Belichick look to do defensively. The Arkansas product is still very young at 25 and has accrued at least 6.5 sacks each year since 2016. However, Trey is more than sacks. His pressure statistics are almost crazy: including playoffs, he had 38 pressures, 29 quarterback hits, and 3 forced fumbles, to go along with 9.5 sacks. Flowers’ greatest talent is his versatility: he can drop back in coverage against slower running backs, become a run stuffer up the middle, and of course, rush the passer.
Contract Expectation: 5 years/70-80 million
Flowers is likely to get a hefty payday in free agency, and it might not come from the Patriots. Teams and defenses are increasingly trying to incorporate versatile defenders in their system, and Flowers is a picture of versatility.
Prediction: New York Jets, 5 years/75 million
The Jets are a team with a lot of money to spend, and a solid young defense that features a good secondary with safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and former all-pro corner Trumaine Johnson. Flowers would help solidify their front 7, especially opposite alongside stud defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
OT Trent Brown
Brown had a breakout year protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Standing 6’8” and tipping the scales at 380 pounds, this behemoth rated as one of the best offensive tackles in the league this year and is sure to fetch hefty contract offers from needy teams. Due to the return of first round pick Isaiah Wynn from a torn Achilles tendon, Brown is not as much of a need as Trey Flowers. Brown has stated his desire to return to the Patriots, saying he would “absolutely love” to stay here (NESN), but the contract he will receive may outweigh that desire to play here in New England.
Contract expectation: 4 years/44 million
Expect Brown to get a hefty paycheck. Even though he may be better than Nate Solder, who received a 4 year, 62-million-dollar contract from the New York Giants, he is less established. There will be multiple suitors for Brown’s services, and he is probably the best offensive tackle on the market in a relatively weak year for the position.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns, 4 years/48 million
Cleveland needs a left tackle badly. They spent a high pick on Nevada OT Austin Corbett last year, and he did not play well. Former 2nd overall pick Greg Robinson filled in well last year, and Cleveland recently resigned him to a one-year deal, but, at this point in his career, he is probably best served in a backup role. The Browns also are a team on the rise with money to spend, so expect them to make a run at signing Trent Brown.
CB Jason McCourty
McCourty initially struggled to make the team after being traded here from the Cleveland Browns. After he made the team, he made the most of his chances and ended up getting a starting role. The dynamic between him and his twin brother and Patriots captain, Devin McCourty, is special. McCourty has also expressed interest in resigning, and, I believe, will take a discount to remain in New England with his twin brother. Although both suggested retirement after the Super Bowl win, they both have expressed their desire to remain playing, especially with the New England Patriots.
Contract: 2 years/8 million
McCourty will likely command a deal similar, and probably a little bit pricier to the one he signed with the Browns after being released by the Titans. Bill Belichick will probably end up giving this, or something similar to him, although I do see the second year being nonguaranteed.
Prediction: New England Patriots, 2 years/6 million
This is a great discount for a statistical top 10 corner (PFF), and a great leader and teammate. I predict McCourty will take a slight discount to stay, and I am 95% sure he will resign.
WR Chris Hogan
Hogan had two extremely productive seasons prior to the past one. After being signed away from Buffalo as a restricted free agent for 3 years and 15 million. In 2016, he had 680 receiving yards. He was hurt last year, only catching 34 passes for 439 yards. This year, he was more productive than many people gave him credit for, mostly due to the sky-high expectations placed on him before the season. He was able to accumulate 35 catches for 532 yards, including one 63-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Contract: 2 years/12 million
Hogan will probably command a contract like the one Danny Amendola signed with the Miami Dolphins last year. There are many teams with needs at receiver, including the Patriots, but I believe that they will look to a level higher than Hogan.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers, 2 years/9 million
San Francisco needs a receiver. They are in the market for Antonio Brown, and have good pieces like George Kittle, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, and Trent Taylor, but they need an established wideout like Hogan to add to their ranks.
K Stephen Gostkowski
Most New England Patriots fans have gotten accustomed to watching Stephen Gostkowski kick for the Patriots. After all, he has been doing so for 13 years, and been reliable for most of that time. However, the Patriots may be separating from Gostkowski this offseason. I have not heard any rumors of the Patriots giving Gostkowski the franchise tag, which is exactly what they did last time Gostkowski hit the market, nor have I heard any rumors of his return. That does not mean that he will not resign, but it seems less likely than before. This situation is murkier than the situations of the previous 4 players. It is currently unclear what Gostkowski will receive, which teams are interested, and if the Patriots look to bring him back.
Contract: 1 year/5 million
Gostkowski will probably sign a deal like this one, no matter where he signs. This is the franchise tag level for a kicker.
Prediction: New England Patriots, 3 years/9 million
I do believe Stephen will resign with the Patriots, on a multiple year contract. This is to avoid the franchise tag, something Bill Belichick does not use very often. Gostkowski still has plenty of good years left, despite some hiccups here and there. Therefore, I expect to see Stephen back in Foxborough this year.
FLEX Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson was acquired by the Patriots from the Oakland Raiders prior to the season with expectations that he would be a premier returner and get somewhat involved in the passing game. The former first rounder out of Tennessee has not lived up to expectations as a receiver, but he has consistently been one of the best kick returners in the league. The Patriots came in to the year talking Patterson up and saying that they would find his optimal use. When Rex Burkhead went down and Sony Michel was struggling with his knees, Patterson was used extensively as a running back, often successfully. He is also probably heading for a reunion with the Patriots.
Contract: 1 year/3 million
Patterson is bound to get this from somebody, if not the Patriots. Teams are also starting to value versatility a lot more (James White, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara) on offense, driving up Patterson’s value. He is also an underrated deep threat, but route running is a little poor.
Prediction: New England Patriots, 1 year/2.5 million
Patterson is highly valued by Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff, so expect them to try to retain him. I believe they probably will.
WR Phillip Dorsett
Dorsett is another underrated and underutilized player. A first round pick of the Colts, Dorsett was acquired from them in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Dorsett has been largely labeled a bust, struggling with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Dorsett was not played as much as some people believe he should’ve (including me). He was still able to accumulate 37 receptions and over 300 yards for 5 touchdowns (including playoffs) for the first time since 2016. Dorsett will likely receive a better deal after this year than he would’ve before it.
Contract: 1 year, 2 million
Dorsett will sign a cheap deal to prove his worth as an NFL receiver. While it remains unseen as to who that team is, I expect Dorsett to move on, due to the Patriots’ intention to add more high caliber receivers.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers, 1 year 2.5 million
Carolina is a team that needs wide receivers. Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore, and Greg Olsen (who is injury prone) are their only receiving threats now. Dorsett is a low risk, high reward option for them.
Restricted Free Agents:
WR Josh Gordon: expect the Patriots to retain him if reinstated.
CB Jonathan Jones: Jones, who is the Patriots top slot corner, is a restricted free agent this year. Nickel corners are starting to become a top priority for teams, with Rams slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman getting 3 years and 17 million last off-season. The Patriots will probably match any reasonable offer sheet for the speedy corner.
Other free agents:
RBJeremy Hill: Hill fits the Patriots power back mold. He tore his ACL in the first game, against the Texans. He may be a candidate to be resigned.
OT LaAdrian Waddle: Waddle is a depth tackle who is serviceable when he plays. The Patriots will probably be in on him yet again.
DE John Simon: Simon was a GREAT mid-season signing for the Patriots, getting solid pressure when he got snaps. The Patriots will probably be in on him as well.
DT Danny Shelton: Shelton was an off-season pickup from Cleveland. He was solid against the run but found himself a healthy scratch at times. His status with the team is up in the air.
DT Malcom Brown: Brown, a former first round pick of the Patriots, ended up falling out of favor with the coaching staff. He will probably end up moving on.
EDGE Ufomba Kamalu: Kamalu was a late season pickup and ended up only playing in one game. He could be a good offseason move for any team, as he is still young and athletic, with good potential.
LB Ramon Humber: Humber was a mid-season signing. He saw most of his snaps on special teams but is another good veteran presence. New England will probably look to resign him to a cheap deal.
LB Albert McClellan: McClellan made his presence known on special teams, blocking multiple punts after being wooed away from the Baltimore Ravens after they cut him (think Brandon Bolden).
CB Eric Rowe: lots of Patriots fans hate Eric Rowe and I don’t blame you for it. However, Patriots defensive coaches seem to like Rowe, so we may see him back in a Patriots uniform
P Ryan Allen: the Super Bowl hero will likely resign with the Patriots.
OT Ulrick John: John was an off-season signing but was placed on the injured reserve. I’m not sure if the Patriots intend on bringing him back.
The next part of the series will be free agent and trade targets, and then we will cover the draft. However, if the Patriots want to remain competitive, they will need to be very active.
Photo Credit: (Charles Krupa - AP Photo)