One of the biggest keys to the prolonged success enjoyed by the New England Patriots organization is their roster management. The Patriots, perhaps better than any other organization, know when to pay a player and when to let them join another franchise.
Pointing to the 2018 offseason, the Patriots saw key playmakers at multiple positions leave the team in free agency. Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, left the Patriots and joined the Tennessee Titans on a five year $61.25 million contract. This made him the tenth highest paid cornerback in the sport.
Joining Butler on the trip to Nashville was running back Dion Lewis. Lewis and the Titans agreed to a four year $19.8 million contract making Lewis a top 10 compensated running back at the time in the NFL.
Danny Amendola, who filled in as the primary slot receiver for Brady last season following the torn ACL suffered by Julian Edelman in the preseason, signed a two year $12 million dollar contract with the division rival Miami Dolphins. This six million dollar average annual salary is nearly three times that of recent Super Bowl LIII MVP Edelman.
Finally, what was perceived by many in the media as the most critical free agent loss for the Patriots, was the departure of left tackle Nate Solder. Solder joined the New York Giants on a four year $62 million contract which at the time made him the highest paid offensive lineman in all of football.
Butler, Lewis, Amendola and Solder all failed to live up to these lofty contracts signed in the 2018 offseason. This left many who had questioned Bill Belichick and the Patriots free agency decisions now praising those decisions following a sixth Super Bowl title for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
With all of this being said, let’s take a look at this year’s crop of Patriot free agents. Who on this year’s roster is worth the payday, and who is it time to say goodbye to?
Players to Protect:
Defensive End – Trey Flowers:
Flowers is arguably the most important free agent on the Patriot’s roster. He was drafted by the Patriots 101st overall in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft out of Arkansas. Following a disappointing rookie campaign in which he battled a shoulder injury for a majority of the season, Flowers has quickly developed into one of the most well rounded four-three defensive ends in the game.
The statistical numbers may not be there for Flowers who has only managed to rack up 21 sacks over three seasons. This seven sack per season average doesn’t scream elite free agent contract, however Flowers has earned the respect of his teammates, his coaches, and has caught the eye of many other teams front offices and will command a top pric e should he hit the free agent market.
Look for Belichick and the Patriots to handle his free agency similar to those of Devin McCourty or Dont’a Hightower. In the cases of both McCourty and Hightower, Belichick allowed for them to hit the free agent market and have other teams set the price. In both cases, the players took a hometown discount to stay with the team, reportedly turning down more money from other organizations.
The Patriots may find themselves in similar territory with Flowers. While the franchise tag would be an option, the Patriots are unlikely to dedicate what will likely be a $18 million price tag to a player of even Flowers caliber. Look for the Patriots to allow Flowers to test the free agent market, but ultimately lock him in to a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of five years $70 million with $40 million in guarantees. He won’t come cheap, butlocking up Flowers should be a priority for New England this offseason.
Most likely free agent suitor: Indianapolis Colts
Wide Receiver – Cordarrelle Patterson:
This one may come as a surprise. After being drafted by the Vikings in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Patterson drastically underperformed on that investment failing to produce much outside of special teams.
When Minnesota chose not to pick up the fifth year option on Patterson’s rookie contract, he signed a two year deal with the Oakland Raiders prior to being traded to the Patriots. This season in Foxboro, Patterson enjoyed one of the most productive seasons of his career since joining the league.
Belichick was able to utilize Patterson’s unique skill set in order to turn him into a triple threat. Whether it was in the return game, hauling in a deep ball, or running the jet sweep, Patterson seems to have found his niche in New England’s offense.
His versatility and value on special teams, combined with the Patriots lack of depth at the receiver position make Patterson worth bringing back on a value deal. Unless another team feels like they can get the most out of Patterson like the Patriots have, it is in the interest of both parties for him to earn a three year contract worth four to five million dollars a season chasing another super bowl ring.
Most likely free agent suitor: Los Angeles Chargers
Kicker – Stephen Gostkowski:
Belichick values special teams more than just about any coach in the NFL. During the Brady/Belichick era, which is entering its 18th season, the Patriots have known only two kickers; Gostkowski, and Adam Vinatieri who is now kicking for the Colts. Gostkowski is already the highest paid kicker in the NFL despite his gaffes in the postseason over the past few years making an average of $4.3 million per year.
I see no reason for the Patriots or Gostkowski to part ways at this point. Look for Gostkowski to get a deal similar to the one he is playing under now, somewhere in the neighborhood of four years, $18 million. If terms can’t be reached prior to the start of this season, Gostkowski is a prime candidate for the Patriots franchise tag which for a kicker will be somewhere in the neighborhood of five million dollars.
Most likely free agent suitor: Chicago Bears
Players to Pass on:
Left Tackle – Trent Brown:
As discussed earlier, the loss of left tackle Nate Solder loomed large over the Patriots organization this offseason. After all, Tom Brady was entering his 17th season at the age of 41, to leave his blind side protector as a question mark is a big issue.
The first day of the NFL draft saw the Patriots select Isaiah Wynn, an offensive lineman from the University of Georgia 23rd overall. Wynn, a potential replacement for Solder at the left tackle position, however was far from a sure thing at the left tackle position. On the second day of the draft, New England added a bit of an insurance policy for Wynn by trading a third round pick for Brown and a fifth rounder.
A torn achilles suffered by Wynn in preseason action thrust Brown into the starting lineup at the left tackle position. Brown performed admirably throughout the season and playoff run, and was a part of the offensive line that allowed only a single sack of Tom Brady facing the likes of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Dee Ford, Chris Jones, Ndamukong Suh, and Aaron Donald.
This season by Brown likely puts him in the same category as Solder in the sense that he will be priced out of the Patriots range for a contract extension. The high price tag that will likely be associated with Brown, coupled with Wynn waiting in the wings leads down a path that ends with Brown not in a Patriot’s uniform at the start of next season.
Most likely free agent suitor: Houston Texans
Defensive Tackle – Malcom Brown:
A first round pick by the Patriots in the 2015 NFL draft out of Texas, Brown has never really lived up to his draft investment. The Patriots declined to pick up the fifth year option attached to Brown’s contract, instead leaving the 2018 season to be a prove it year.
Brown struggled again this season only managing to record 39 tackles, no tackles for loss, and no sacks. With Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler still on the depth chart, and the potential to re-sign Danny Shelton, it’s time for New England to cut their losses with the former first round pick and look to add depth in the free agent pool and this year’s draft.
Most likely free agent suitor: Seattle Seahawks
Wide Receiver – Chris Hogan:
Since coming over from the division rival Buffalo Bills as a restricted free agent, Hogan has enjoyed an up and down career. In his first season, Hogan was tied with DeSean Jackson for yards per reception. Hogan’s second season was shortened due to a shoulder injury that limited his effectiveness throughout the season.
Even playing a full slate of games this season, Hogan only slightly overcame his statistical output from the injury shortened season a year prior. Hogan is likely to find himself in similar company to Danny Amendola in which some team offers him more money than the Patriots are willing to pay. Hogan’s inability to improve his statistical output during his time in New England likely means that his tenure is coming to a natural conclusion.
Most likely free agent suitor: Miami Dolphins
While the offseason is always a time of roster turnover and their will likely be many new faces in New England at the start of next season, one thing is for sure; Belichick will make the roster moves that he feels are necessary to keep this team in title contention.
-Adam Myers is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTMyers