Should I stay or should I go now?
With 19 players reaching free agency once the new league year hits the Patriots have some decisions to make. Those 19 players include hall of fame quarterback and G.O.A.T. Tom Brady, who has a player option that will be voided.
As part of our Patriots off season review, we’re going to go player by player on whom is expected to depart Foxborough, and who will likely stick around.
We’ll also review some players who are candidates to be cut, extended, or re-structured (but either way find their current salary cap position precarious)
Keionta Davis – Defensive Line, the border line player (border line in that he’s a candidate to be on the practice squad or cut on any given week) has probably reached the point of no return. At a certain point it has to be determined that a guy isn’t going to be an impact player for you: GONE
Adam Butler – Defensive Line. Butler is a former undrafted rookie free agent who has worked his way into being a defacto starter for one of the best defenses in the league. A restricted free agent I would expect that he’ll be retained. RE-SIGNED
Nick Folk – Kicker Brought in mid-season following Stephen Gostkowski’s injury, there is little reason to expect to see Folk in 2020. It wouldn’t shock if Gostkowski was let go in a salary cap move, but if that’s the case I’d expect a 2020 draftee as his replacement. GONE
Marshall Newhouse – Offensive Tackle. One of the most attacked players by Patriots fandom that I can recall. Considering he walked in off the street and stepped in to play left tackle, things could’ve gone MUCH worse. In recent years the “swing tackle” position has been manned by Cam Fleming, and then LaAdrian Waddle. I believe the Patriots anticipated it’d be Yodny Cajuste in 2019, but alas that plan fell through. It’d wouldn’t shock me if Newhouse was brought back to camp in 2020 as insurance, but ultimately he’s GONE
James Ferentz – Interior Offensive Line. We’d all love to see Mark Andrews back at center in 2020, and that is the ultimate plan, but I also think it’d be reckless to count on that. While drafting an interior lineman in the first few rounds would be a nice idea, bringing Ferentz at least into camp seems likely. RE-SIGNED
Jermaine Eluemunor – Interior Offensive Line. Acquired in a wild few days towards the end of camp when the Pats seemed to be acquiring any lineman in danger of being cut, Eluemunor never really made in impact. Even with Thuney likely walking out the door, and question marks with Andrews, I don’t expect him to see year two for the Patriots. GONE
Ted Karras – Interior Offensive Line. Unexpectedly thrust into the starting job, Karras performed pretty decently. Ideally he’d return to his role as back up interior lineman. That being said, he’s shown he can be a starter in the NFL for a playoff team. I’d expect that he’ll be able to cash in at a price point that the Patriots won’t match. GONE
Shilique Calhoun – Edge Player. The former third round pick out of Michigan State failed to reach his draft level promise with the Raiders, and truth be told, not with the Patriots. But he did flash enough to warrant another opportunity, especially considering he didn’t do enough to price himself out of the market. A nice depth piece, especially with Derek Rivers’ future always in doubt. RE-SIGNED
Elandon Roberts – Linebacker. The part time fullback, full time thumper started his NFL career about 25 years too late. A classic inside linebacker type is now relegated to part time status in today’s spread offense world. I think the team would like to bring him back, but with Ja’Whaun Bentley in place, I don’t expect the team to be willing to extend themselves financially too much. Ultimately I think he finds a bit more cash somewhere else. GONE
Benjamin Watson – Tight End. This one is easy, Watson has said he is retiring, and this time it feels real. GONE
Joe Thuney – Interior Offensive Line. The Pats already have a decent chunk of change invested at the guard position with Shaq Mason. Personally, I’d like to see one of the first round tackles head to Foxborough with Cannon being let go, take the savings from Cannon’s release and invest in Thuney. But that’s me. The reality is that Thuney will be poached by someone with loads of cap space (looking at you Miami). GONE
Danny Shelton – Defensive Tackle. Last year at this time, it felt like Shelton was gone. That between him and Malcom Brown, that Brown would return and Shelton would land elsewhere. Well, Brown got big bucks to go to New Orleans, and Shelton returned on a value deal. He lost some weight, increased his presence, and is now in line to land a nice deal somewhere. With a defensive tackle market that seemingly has more sellers than buyers, he could be back. But it also feels like a position that may be addressed on the cheap. GONE
Jamie Collins – Linebacker. Collins resurrected his career last season with a return to the Patriots. That being said, for a linebacker who relies heavily on his physical skills (vs. being an instinctual player), his age is starting to become advanced. Coupled with being exposed when he went to the Browns, it feels like he’s ripe to re-sign at a another value contract. RE-SIGNED
Nate Ebner – Safety/Special Teams Ace. We all know Belichick would love nothing more than to have 1 quarterback, and 52 special teams players, eventually something has to give. To have 4 players (Slater, Ebner, Bethel, King) who function primarily as special teams players, that aren’t even kickers or punters, feels like its pushing it. Ultimately I think King is a cap casualty, Slater returns, and Ebner gets a deal somewhere else. Like maybe on a team who just hired the Patriots special teams coach to be their head coach? GONE
Philip Dorsett – Wide Receiver. Lets be honest, the only reason Dorsett returned in 2019 was because they wanted to have more than just Edelman around who had caught a pass from Brady before. With Edelman, Sanu, and Harry all set to return in 2020, and a need to upgrade weapons I don’t see any way Dorsett returns next year. GONE
Matthew Slater – Special Teams Ace. I’m not going to dignify the farce that has been calling a Slater a wide receiver. Call him what he is, one of the best to ever do it on special teams. A modern day Steve Tasker. If Slater chooses to play in 2020, and odds are he will. He’ll be a Patriot. RE-SIGNED
Kyle Van Noy – Linebacker. Picked up off the scrap heap, it looked like Van Noy was a second round bust for the Lions. Instead of looking at what he couldn’t do, Belichick took him and put him in position to do what he could do, and he flourished. He’ll now be one of the most sought after linebackers on the market. There will be talk of him landing back in Detroit. But honestly, I think he’ll end up getting a nice chunk of change from Mike Mayock and the Las Vegas Raiders. GONE
Devin McCourty – Safety. Here is a real interesting case. McCourty would be a PERFECT signing for the New York Giants. You know Judge would love to bring over one or two Patriots. Adding McCourty to play next to Peppers in the back end of a young secondary would be ideal. The Giants will have cap space. But after spending his entire career in New England, will McCourty want to leave? Will his twin being in Foxborough sway him to stay? Will Jason be a cap casualty? How much will the Patriots be willing to pay a 33 (by opening night) safety? Ultimately I think McCourty stays, but another safety is gone. RE-SIGNED
Thomas Brady – Quarterback. Maybe you’ve heard of this guy. Not much has been said about the possibility of him leaving, but it is an option. He may be able to latch on to a squad as a back up for another couple of years or something. Maybe he could wrestle the staring job away from someone like Mitchell Trubisky….. obviously I’m kidding. I won’t beat a dead horse on the pros and cons for Brady to stay other than to give the final verdict. RE-SIGNED
Those are just the currently known free agents. Inevitably some players currently under contract will be cut/released. This is usually due to their current contracts simply not meeting the team’s desired investment at the particular roster spot.
The Patriots are not completely out of cap-space, but their not exactly flush with room either, especially considering they need space to sign draft picks, and they have some big names they’d like to bring back, and that’s before even considering improving the current roster. So lets take a look at 13 guys that could either be cut, have their contracts restructured, or have their contract extended. Either way, it just doesn’t feel like they should be on the 2020 squad with their contracts as currently set up.
Dont’a Hightower –Linebacker. The steady, versatile backer can play in the middle standing up, or on the edge with his hand in the dirt. He’s been prone to injury, but is also tough enough that you wouldn’t say he is prone to minor stuff slowing him down. He feels like a candidate to have his deal redone to lower his cap number while keeping him in town a bit longer.
Marcus Cannon – Right Tackle. Marcus switched up and got a new agent this off season indicating that he doesn’t intend to hang em up this spring. Cannon it feels is entering the downslope of his career. I stated earlier that if it were up to me, and I were looking at the O-Line as an investment number as a whole, I’d cut Cannon, draft a tackle (I don’t trust Cajuste to be the guy, yet), and take that savings to spend on Thuney
Patrick Chung – Safety. The Patriots essentially deployed 4 safeties in 2019, Terrence Brooks, who will be 28 when the season starts, Duron Harmon (29), Devin McCourty (33), and Patrick Chung (33). In terms of NFL years, McCourty and Chung are ancient. Ideally one of McCourty/Chung remains, and the other is replaced with a 2020 draft pick (or by 2019 2nd rounder JoeJuan Williams who spent 2019 at corner). Chung feels like a “let him leave a year early” candidate to me. Him being sent to Detroit for a 6th rounder feels like a Patriot move to me.
Jason McCourty – Cornerback. A scrap heap signing after the 2017 season, McCourty has been a steal. So much so that his 2018 one year deal netted him a return invite last year. With a lot of depth at the corner position (pretty much any team would LOVE to have a depth chart including Stephen Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, JoeJuan Williams, and Jason McCourty), this feels like an area where cap space/playing time, could become available if McCourty is cut loose.
Stephen Gostkowski – Kicker. Certainly Gostkowski has become less of a sure thing the last couple of year. But if his absence taught us anything its to be careful of what you wish for, because the grass was not greener on the other side of Ghost being gone. That being said, with an abundance of late round picks, it shouldn’t shock anyone if at the very least a significantly cheaper alternative is drafted, at least for a camp look.
Rex Burkhead – Running Back. Burkhead is pretty good at everything, not great at anything. A good runner, and a good receiver, he’s a very nice depth piece. But if you can clear nearly $3 million in cap room by letting him leave, when you have 2019 3rd rounder Damien Harris waiting in the wings, you do it.
Brandon King – Special Teams/Linebacker. King missed all of the 2019 regular season. He doesn’t make a TON, but it feels like his roster spot/cap space could be put to better use.
James Develin – Fullback. Oh James, you were missed. First Develin went down, and then his replacement Jakob Johnson was lost for the year. Next thing you know we’re looking at linebacker Elandon Roberts lining up in the backfield. The losses of center David Andrews and fullback James Develin were severely understated last season. There have been some rumblings in the local media about Develin retiring. If he returns, it feels like his contract is ripe for a re-structure.
Derek Rivers – Edge. At some point, you’ve got to cut the line. The Pats drafted Rivers out of a small school anticipating there’d be a learning curve. Unfortunately due to injuries, we still don’t know how steep that curve is. He doesn’t make much, so cutting him in the spring doesn’t make sense. But if he doesn’t show in camp, the 90 man camp roster may be as far as he makes it.
Mohamed Sanu – Wide Receiver. You won’t hear any of the crazy “release Sanu” talk slander coming from here. The Patriots sent a 2nd round pick to Atlanta. He isn’t being released, stop it, he wasn’t THAT bad. He came over mid-season to a new system and promptly got banged up. Given time to heal, and learn the Pats’ O, Sanu will be what he has always been, a viable #2 guy, and an ideal #3 guy (looking at you to step up N’Keal Harry). His $6.5 million cap hit isn’t THAT bad, but as its the last year of his deal, a little 2 year extension to lower that number makes absolute sense.
Lawrence Guy – Defensive Line. If you looked up un-sung hero in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Lawrence Guy (don’t really do that, I’m kidding, his picture isn’t there, its hyperbole, look that word up). An after thought signing (at least to the general public) from Baltimore a couple of years back, Guy has been a versatile workhorse for the Patriots defense. Guy will turn 30 this Saint Patrick’s day and is going into the last year of his deal. Like Sanu, a nice little 2 year extension to lower his number would be perfect.
Duron Harmon – Safety, as mentioned previously, the Patriots safety group is starting to get a little long in the tooth. Harmon has long been the “3rd safety” on a team that often deploys 3 safety line ups. While some turnover is nice to keep the room fresh, and get the team younger, keeping Harmon as a building block bridge player to the next set of safeties makes sense. Extending him to lower his cap number makes even more sense.
Justin Bethel – Special Teams/Safety. This speedster was grabbed from Baltimore who was more concerned about a comp pick than keeping their special teams solidified. Slightly younger than Ebner, it feels like Bethel could be in line to be the next “special” special teams guy with Slater much closer to the end of his career than his beginning. Going into the last year of his deal, an extension makes sense.
So there it is, a review of the Patriots’ free agent crop, and some potential names to keep an eye out on for restructures.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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