The post-Tom Brady era in New England has seen plenty of change both in terms of players and coaching personnel. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss writes, the Patriots have a number of important decisions to make on their roster, leaving them with a relatively clearly-defined list of positional priorities.
Reiss lists inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver – in that order – as the three positions that should be the primary focus this offseason. The incumbent starters at the first on that list, Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley, are pending free agents, while Raekwon McMillan is coming off of a torn ACL. The position is the one on defense where the overall need to get younger and faster is perhaps the greatest, so youth could very well be preferred to experience there.
The same could hold true at cornerback, where the team likely faces its most important decision. J.C. Jackson is a pending free agent, and could be in line for a large payday. In the last two seasons, the 26-year-old has totalled 17 interceptions and 37 pass breakups. In coverage, he hasn’t allowed a completion percentage above 59% or a passer rating over 66.5 in his four years with New England. His play after Stephon Gilmore was traded to Carolina proved his value to the Patriots, or any number of free agent suitors.
The Patriots may be well positioned to replace the Pro Bowler, or add some vital depth behind him if he is retained, via the draft. As Reiss notes, cornerback is considered one of the strongest positions in this year’s class, so an impactful addition could be made in April. The team will likely be looking to do the same with their wide receivers.
The signings of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have added experience and depth to the Patriots’ pass-catching core, but, as Reiss writes, the addition of a true No. 1 “would be ideal”. New England was reportedly close to signing Odell Beckham Jr. before he ultimately went to L.A.; adding someone of his caliber, along with increased production from 2021 free agent signing tight end Jonnu Smith would go a long way in quarterback Mac Jones‘ development. Pending restricted free agent Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, is likely to receive an extension, or at least a second-round tender, according to Reiss.
With plenty of questions surrounding the team’s coaching staff – and, to a lesser extent, the front office – the moves New England makes with their free agents will dictate much of their success in attempting to return to Super Bowl contention.