In case you haven’t heard by now, the Patriots spent big in the first week of NFL free agency.
As of Sunday afternoon, New England has dished out roughly $290 million ($157.8 million guaranteed) in contracts this offseason, according to OverTheCap.com, which is by far the most any team has spent this offseason.
Though the Patriots have signed, re-signed, or traded for 21 players thus far, there’s still some work to be done. And they still have some money left to spend after their splurge in the first week of free agency. New England has $25 million left in cap space (with five deals not yet accounted for), according to NFL salary guru @PatsCap on Twitter.
Here are four things the Patriots could do with their remaining cap space.
Re-sign James White or bring in another pass-catching running back.
In a season, marred with inconsistency and struggling performances throughout the roster, one of the strengths of the 2020 Patriots was their running backs. The Patriots’ ground game ranked fourth in the league last season, averaging 146.6 yards per game.
New England returns the player who contributed the most to its ground game in Damien Harris. Sony Michel returns as well, putting up some solid performances in limited action after struggling in 2019. While both running backs averaged five-plus yards per carry last season, neither added much in the receiving game, combining for just 12 receptions.
James White, who’s a free agent for the first time in his career, had 49 receptions in 2020, which was the second-most on the team. Over his Patriots tenure, White’s solidified himself as being a solid receiving threat out of the backfield, averaging nearly 65 receptions over the last five seasons.
It currently doesn’t seem to be a sure thing that White returns to New England, as Tampa Bay is reportedly making a play to reunite him with Tom Brady. If White does go to Tampa — or to any other team that isn’t New England — the Patriots could go after free-agent running backs Mike Davis, Damien Williams, Leonard Fournette, or Todd Gurley, all of whom have proven to be viable receiving threats over their careers.
The Patriots could also bring back Rex Burkhead to help fill that role. Burkhead, who is currently a free agent, tore his ACL late in the 2020 season.
Re-sign Lawrence Guy.
Like with White, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy was one of the few consistent players for the Patriots last season. The veteran defensive tackle recorded 57 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks in 2020.
Guy is currently a free agent though, and the Patriots have already spent back on their defensive line. They gave Dolphins nose tackle Decon Godchaux a two-year, $16 million deal. Jets defensive end Henry Anderson received a two-year, $7 million deal with the Patriots and defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. decided to return to New England on a four-year, $30 million deal.
Even with those deals, Guy could still return. The Patriots released defensive tackle Beau Allen and defensive tackle Adam Butler departed New England for Miami, leaving room on the Patriots’ defensive line for Guy to comeback.
There hasn’t been much news on Guy so far in free agency.
Make a play for Marcus Mariota.
So far this offseason, the Patriots have added outside talent in all of their position groups except for running back and quarterback.
Patriots fans don’t need another reminder as to why their team needs to address their quarterback situation this offseason. They already re-signed Cam Newton to a relatively cheap deal, but all reports seem to suggest that they’re still in the market for a quarterback.
If they’re looking to add a veteran quarterback though, they have slim pickings. Veteran free-agent quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Mitchell Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett, and Jameis Winston all found new homes (or in Winston’s case, remained at home) this past week. The 49ers reportedly won’t move Jimmy Garoppolo unless they make a clear upgrade. The Seahawks reportedly turned down a huge offer from the Bears for Russell Wilson and the Deshaun Watson situation remains to be a huge question mark, especially after 12 lawsuits were filed against him this week accusing him of inappropriate conduct and sexual assault.
There is one veteran quarterback who appears to be hitting the market though. Marcus Mariota’s days in Las Vegas might be winding down after he reportedly refused to take a pay cut at the Raiders’ asking. If Mariota gets released or becomes available in the trade market, the Patriots might not have much competition to acquire him with the Bears and Washington Football Team signing quarterbacks who appear to be their starters for next season.
Mariota to the Patriots has been speculated for a while now, with Mariota being the betting favorite to be the Patriots’ Week 1 starting quarterback at one point. If the Patriots aren’t able to get Mariota, they may have to resort to the draft in order to get a new quarterback this offseason.
Extend or restructure Stephon Gilmore’s contract.
If there’s any message the Patriots sent with their spending this week, it’s that they plan to be competitive in 2021. And if they plan to be competitive, they should bring back the player who is arguably the best player on their team.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s future with the Patriots has been in question since the middle of the 2020 season. Gilmore has one-year left on his deal and his $7 million base salary for the 2021 season is relatively low considering he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019.
While trade speculation has surrounded Gilmore for a while now, the latest report on Gilmore says that the Patriots aren’t making him available for trade. If New England does plan on keeping the talented corner on their revamped roster, they’ll likely have to give him a pay raise for the 2021 season. Luckily for them, they still have the cap space to do that if they wish.
If they extend Gilmore now, it could also help save cap space in future seasons, allowing flexibility beyond 2021.
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