The Patriots haven’t acquired any offensive superstars this offseason like some fellow AFC foes, but they’ve still made several significant moves that have altered the makeup of their roster.
New England traded for defensive lineman Michael Bennett, signed receiver Bruce Ellington, tight end Matt LaCosse, receiver Maurice Harris, defensive tackle Mike Pennel, and safety Terrence Brooks, and re-signed cornerback Jason McCourty, receiver Philip Dorsett, defensive lineman John Simon, and running back Brandon Bolden.
The Patriots also lost defensive end Trey Flowers, offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and they missed out on receivers Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, and Cole Beasley, among other players.
Here’s what experts are saying about the relatively quiet offseason so far.
They’ve said goodbye to some familiar faces.
ESPN NFL reporter Mike Reiss pointed out that the Patriots were interested in keeping Flowers, but they seldom stray from their financial discipline – which he noted is a philosophy that has worked out for them. He said the acquisition of Bennett will soften the blow, also noting that third-year defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. could see his role expand.
Boston Globe reporter Ben Volin believes Flowers won for “most absurd deal of free agency,” clarifying that Flowers is a good, young player, but not necessarily worth the $90 million over five years head coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions gave him.
“Detroit is desperate, had big money to spend, and Flowers benefits from good timing,” Volin wrote.
As for Trent Brown, who joined the Oakland Raiders, Volin noted that the Raiders are taking a leap of faith.
“Giving Trent Brown $36.75 million over two years is risky, but at least it’s not a long-term commitment,” Volin said.
Malcom Brown, meanwhile, signed a three year, $15 million deal with the New Orleans Saints, and the Globe’s Nora Princiotti said his departure wasn’t a surprise.
Reiss, meanwhile, shared how Patterson played a key role last season, pointing out that his one touchdown on a kickoff return came against his new team, the Chicago Bears. The ESPN reporter said he didn’t sense much momentum between the Patriots and Patterson, adding that New England maximized his diverse skill set for one year, and that was considered a victory both parties.
They’ve brought back some equally familiar ones.
McCourty’s two-year deal, which has a base value of $10 and $5.5 million guaranteed, helps the Patriots strengthen what might be their deepest position on the roster, Reiss said. He believes the risk is minimal and that McCourty’s leadership should continue to benefit both the cornerbacks and the Patriots as a whole.
Reiss also expects Bolden, who signed for two years, a total value of $4.7 million, to make the team.
Brandon Bolden: 2 years, total value 4.7 million
Signing bonus: $1 million
Base: $1m (gt’d)
Roster bonus: $200k ($12.5k per game)
Roster bonus: $200k ($12.5k per game)
ANALYSIS: Strong deal. Good chance he is on team
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 15, 2019
Princiotti noted that the Patriots and Dorsett stayed on good terms even though his level of involvement fluctuated last year, and she believes it’s possible Dorsett could see an expanded role this season.
“For Dorsett, a one-year deal provides him an opportunity to get more consistent snaps and prove himself before potentially hitting the market again,” Princiotti said.
NESN’s Doug Kyed said the Patriots fortified their pass rush by bringing back Simon, who contributed 17 tackles and two sacks in 11 regular-season games and added a half sack in the AFC Championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Kyed said it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots add another defensive end and draft a player at the position.
— John Simon (@johnesimon51) March 14, 2019
One other item of note is that special teams standout Matthew Slater had his 2019 option picked up by the team. ESPN Insider Field Yates reported that Slater earned a $400,000 roster bonus earlier this week as well.
“One of New England’s top leaders and most respected players,” Yates said.
They plucked players from the New York Jets.
We’ve seen this movie before, where the Patriots turn underutilized or undeveloped players brimming with potential into key contributors.
Kyed pointed out how Patriots coach Bill Belichick is seeking out former Jets, in particular, with the hopes of molding them into role players. The NESN reporter speculated there might be a common denominator after the Patriots hired former Jets assistant coach Mick Lombardi. If it seems like too much of a coincidence to be one, Kyed hinted, that’s because it’s likely not.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) March 16, 2019
The 6’4″, 333-pound Pennel could help fill a void at defensive tackle. After receiving a 61.4 grade from Pro Football Tackle in 2017, that number rose to 87.1 in 2018, as Pennel registered 13 quarterback pressures and 20 stops with the New York Jets.
“Helps address a real need on the interior of the defensive line,” NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry said of Pennel.
The safety Brooks, meanwhile, spent the last two seasons with the Jets. Patriots.com’s Paul Perillo said Brooks is thought of mainly as a special teams player. In New York, he appeared in 31 games and registered two interceptions.
They’ve brought in some pass-catchers but are looking for more.
The Patriots’ lack of depth at wide receiver and tight end didn’t ultimately hurt them in the playoffs, but they’re always looking to bolster those positions.
Reiss mentioned that Ellington has had some hamstring issues and will need to fight for a roster spot, and he also pointed out that it would be a surprise if the Patriots don’t make any more moves at wide receiver.
“Clear theme,” Reiss wrote. “Seeking help in the slot.”
As for the receivers the Patriots missed out on, NFL Network reporter Mike Giardi believes Humphries – who went from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Tennessee Titans – is clearly the best of the bunch.
“No knock on Golden Tate,” Giardi wrote, “but if you were gonna spend money in free agency, Adam Humphries was the only one worth the cash. That’s fact, not opinion.”
NBC Sports Washington’s Peter Halley wrote that the Patriots may end up being able to maximize the receiver Harris’s talent and said it’s not hard to imagine him figuring it out after an uninspiring stretch with the Redskins.
Another notable development on offense is the addition of LaCosse, who came from the Broncos and signed a two-year deal, worth up to $4.8 million. He’ll theoretically join Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo on the depth chart. Reiss said a $500,000 deal “reflects how the Patriots view his upside.”
Their salary cap management is “very good.”
Volin said he thinks the Patriots are tight on the salary cap, but not too handcuffed, noting that their “cap management is very good this year.” Per Over the Cap, Volin pointed out, the Patriots have the lowest cash-to-cap ratio in the NFL at 0.74.
He said one way New England can create cap space is by restructuring quarterback Tom Brady’s contract, which calls for him to make $15 million in cash with a $27 million cap hit in 2019, the last season of his deal.
Volin is also curious to see how the Gronkowski situation develops, and he noted that he believes the Patriots still want to bring kicker Stephen Gostkowski back if possible.
“The Patriots should be careful,” Volin wrote, “because even though every team in the league now has a kicker, another team could easily still swoop in and steal Gostkowski.”
They’re still the team to beat in the AFC.
That’s the nitty-gritty, but what about the big picture? NBC Sports Boston Pats Insider Tom E. Curran has the Patriots No. 1 in his AFC Power Rankings. Curran acknowledged they’ve been treading water at best, but he said he still expects them to contend.
He put the Chiefs, Texans, Colts, and Browns behind them but noted that the Patriots are still the frontrunners until someone dethrones them.
“After their postseason romp through the NFL,” Curran said, “I can’t in good faith, put anybody over them.”