The Patriots’ offseason to-do list hasn’t been this long in 20 years.
But before they can roll up their sleeves to begin rebuilding, they must decide who to retain.
Here’s a quick-hit look at the Pats’ 25 impending free agents. All salary figures are courtesy of Over The Cap.
* Denotes a restricted free agent
QB Cam Newton
The Patriots have not ruled out re-signing Newton in 2021, a source told the Herald, though it’s difficult to envision him back as an assured starter. Newton’s market will be an interesting follow, given his disappointing performance this season and an expected jump in QB-needy teams from last spring. If Newton is re-signed, he’ll likely need to accept a probable backup role and/or a contract similar to the bare-bones one-year deal he inked last summer.
RB James White
White is hitting free agency for the first time in his career, and the timing couldn’t be much worse. He’s entering his age 29 season in a league that continues to devalue his position and saw his pass protection crumble last year. White also seems to have lost half a step, but all that could be explained by the heavy heart he played with since mid-September, when he lost his father in a fatal car accident that also sent his mother to the hospital.
White carried a base salary of $3 million in 2020, which should be in the neighborhood of his next contract’s APY (average per year). If the Patriots want to retain their longtime captain, they should be able to.
OG Joe Thuney
Thuney, on the other hand, will cost a pretty penny.
Despite a projected lower salary cap in 2021, Thuney should find the long-term deal he’s long been seeking in a free-agent market starved for elite offensive guards. Several poor pass-blocking teams, including the Jets, Jaguars, Chargers, Dolphins and Washington Football Team, are flush with cap space. Armed with the fourth-most cap room in the NFL, the Pats could afford him. But should they?
CB J.C. Jackson*
Easy call here. The Pats should slap a first-round tender on Jackson, a restricted free agent, to keep him for another season at less than $5 million. Then, Jackson can either agree to a long-term offer with another team and the Pats match, or they extract an extra first-round pick from that team.
C David Andrews
Andrews wants to return. The Patriots have every reason to want him back. Andrews’ free agency should come down to finding middle ground after he lands an outside offer reflective of the market for above-average centers and returns to the negotiating table in Foxboro.
DL Lawrence Guy
Another captain intent on re-signing, Guy might be more open to a below-market deal than most, particularly if it provides him long-term security that defensive tackles on the wrong side of 30 rarely gain. His positional flexibility is also immensely valuable to the Pats, who play a variety of defensive fronts.
CB Jason McCourty
A one-year deal here seems sensible, given McCourty’s man-to-man cover skills have declined for a second straight season, and his brother, Devin, is signed through 2021. Additionally, Jason expanded his role to playing more safety last season, a versatility that could help him stick around one more year.
DL Deatrich Wise
Credit to the former fourth-rounder. Wise improved every season and ranked among the team’s most effective down-to-down pass-rushers, despite often playing out of position. He might price the Pats out as a free agent.
DL Adam Butler
Butler is a good, smart player who might benefit from a system change. He’s not suited for the regular run-stopping duties demanded in the middle of the Patriots’ defense, instead thriving as a penetrator whose instincts often guide him into disrupting screens and other misdirection plays. The Pats should want him back, but, like Wise, Butler’s price might be too high for their liking, even after they applied a second-round tender on him last offseason.
RB Rex Burkhead
The Patriots love Burkhead, who was en route to a career year before tearing his ACL in November. So the safe bet is they return him on a short-term, team-friendly deal and see if and/or how he bounces back.
WR Damiere Byrd
Byrd’s ability to grasp the Pats’ offense in his first season was impressive, but the diminutive speedster was also invisible in almost half the games he played. Within a saturated wide receiver market, Byrd shouldn’t fetch much more than $2 million per year.
OLB John Simon
Aside from one month-long midseason stretch, Simon endured a terrible year. It’s difficult to see why the Pats would be interested in a reunion beyond his leadership and durability.
K Nick Folk
Folk enjoyed a career year at age 36 and intends to keep playing. This is a tough call for the Pats, who surely can’t expect a repeat performance, but are otherwise left with a reclamation project in Roberto Aguayo and former fifth-round pick Justin Rohrwasser, whose disastrous summer brought Folk back to Foxboro in the first place.
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
Unfortunately for Eluemunor, he was playing the best football of his life before injury struck, and he lost his starting job to rookie Michael Onwenu. Fortunately for the Patriots, that should drive his price down, as Eluemunor later struggled when they flipped him to left tackle as an injury replacement.
OLB Brandon Copeland
Copeland was a core special-teamer, defensive reserve and respected locker-room voice before tearing his pectoral muscle in Week 6. He should be returned on a cheap one- or two-year contract.
S Terrence Brooks
A special teams regular and defensive reserve, Brooks took a step back in his second year as a Patriot. He was a healthy scratch for both of the team’s games at Los Angeles, potentially a bad sign for his odds of returning.
WR Donte Moncrief
The 27-year-old managed one catch in just six games, but flashed as a kick returner. Assuming Moncrief finds an unfriendly market, there’s no reason for the Patriots not to take a flier on him in 2021.
QB Brian Hoyer
Hoyer was inactive for every game that followed his horrible Week 4 performance at Kansas City. The 35-year-old seems ticketed for retirement, after saying in August he wants to set roots in New England.
ST Justin Bethel
An elite kick coverage player, Bethel took four special teams penalties this year. He’ll leap up the team’s priority list if Matthew Slater retires.
S Cody Davis
Davis made nine special teams tackles and blocked a field goal in his first season as a Patriot. For those efforts, he was named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro second team. The one-year, $1.5 million deal with $300,000 guaranteed figures to be a starting point for negotiations this spring.
OLB Shilique Calhoun
Most of Calhoun’s production occurred in Week 3, when he earned a sack and two forced fumbles against the Raiders. Otherwise, he tallied a hurry in half his games and was an unreliable run defender. He should sign somewhere for close to the minimum.
DL Carl Davis
Two concussions marred Davis’ brief time as a Patriot, though he still totaled five hurries over three games. If he’s cleared to return, the 320-pounder could re-sign in New England, which he said felt like home.
OL James Ferentz
The Pats signed Ferentz off his couch in September. They’ll probably wait that long again to bring him back, if at all.
OL Marcus Martin
Martin, who hasn’t taken a regular-season offensive snap since 2016, signed to the active roster on Dec. 28. If he’s re-signed, it will be as a training camp body.
CB Dee Virgin*
The Pats inked Virgin, a veteran of the Lions’ and Rams’ 2020 practice squads, to their active roster two weeks ago, indicating they want a longer look at him. Virgin should command an original-round tender this offseason, which will cost the team little as a former undrafted free agent.
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