Some would say that it feels like a Patriots free agency of old: some quality team leader veterans return, and other high-profile guys leave town. We were blown away with last years spending spree, and many knew that it wouldn't be remotely the same. The Patriots are in quite a new territory for the first time in nearly two decades, in which the team is kind of middle of the road/rebuilding, while the rest of the AFC is getting extremely beefed up. The longtime assumed heir apparent is now the HC in Las Vegas and Bill Belichick isn't getting any younger, so are the Patriots going to take a back seat for a couple seasons? Or are they about to be right back at the top of the order in the coming seasons.
The talk all of 2021 was what was going to happen with the number one corner J.C Jackson. He was performing at a very high level and the market for corners is extremely high right now. Bill Belichick has been known to let quality guys go as opposed to paying them top dollar and as the season progressed, it was becoming increasingly clear that Jackson was likely heading elsewhere. Almost as soon as he was able to, Jackson inked a 5-year $82.5 million deal with the LA Chargers, leaving the Patriots secondary without their top guy. As much as you'd love to keep talented players like J.C around, having a top shut-down corner isn't a necessity to winning. Sure you would love to have a Jalen Ramsey, but a ferocious front seven on the defensive end is much more effective in causing a lot of issues on the offensive end.
The Patriots are much more backed up against the cap this year, so some tough moves need to be made. So far, Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Mason were the casualties of that. Van Noy played only one season in his second stint with New England, but had a respectable year. The news was a little surprising when he was cut, given that the linebacking group is definitely a position that needs some TLC. However, parting ways with Van Noy opened up around $5 million, and assumes that Belichick will be riding high on his young linebacker group. Moving on from Shaq Mason also came as a surprise, as the Pats sent the long-time vet to Tampa for a 5th rounder. This cleared up around $6 million in space which implies Bill is gearing up for some sort of move here. The O-line is one of the stronger positions on the roster (despite losing Ted Karras to Cincinnati), so if there is a position where they could give up a little bit of room, that one was it.
Another trade came this morning, when the team moved on from Chase Winovich, trading him to Cleveland for Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson. Chase was a fan favorite and a great player, but never appeared to be the best fit on the roster. Wilson's big trait is that he is very effective in pass coverage, so with the league getting faster every year, it is a great move for the Pats to get quicker in their linebacking group.
Now lets get to those who will be returning to us for next season. Veterans James White, Devin McCourty, Bryan Hoyer, Matthew Slater and Nick Folk will all be returning on rather team friendly deals. Slater, McCourty and White offer invaluable leadership to the locker room and having the best kicker in the league is never a bad thing. By keeping Hoyer around, this opens the though that Jarrett Stidham might be on his way out.
There is still plenty of time in free agency and with the Pats seeming to clear cap space for a big name or two, keep an eye out for any new big names in the coming days (maybe Myles Jack or Allen Robinson? Please). Also keep an eye on head recruiter Matthew Judon, he has been on that grind.