After a one-year hiatus, the New England Patriots made it back to the AFC Playoffs. Some would say that they overachieved since they were not expected to contend for the playoffs in 2021, especially with a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones. Well, Jones exceeded expectations and, at one time, had the Patriots with the best record in the AFC and the top seed in the conference.
Ultimately they struggled down the stretch and finished at 10-7 but made it back to the postseason, losing in the Wild card round to the Buffalo Bills 47-17. The Patriots will need to add players to see if they can overtake the Bills, who have won the AFC East the past two seasons.
That, however, will be a difficult task, as the Bills have Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and a great defense, still intact, that gave the Kansas City Chiefs everything they could handle in their 42-36 AFC Divisional Round defeat. The Patriots need some more playmakers to make that happen. So let’s take a look at who they may target in free agency.
New England Patriots’ Targets
Jackson is a free agent, and the Patriots may not offer him what he is seeking, which another team can. However, the Pats must do what they have to do to keep him. They traded away Stephon Gilmore before the trade deadline, and Jackson became their number one corner. He has recorded 17 interceptions the past two seasons and was named to his first Pro Bowl and named a second-team All-Pro.
The Patriots are a team that usually doesn’t spend big in free agency. However, that changed last season as they went on a spending spree totaling $163 million in guaranteed contracts. Jackson will want money consistent with a number one cornerback, and the Patriots may not pay him. However, he is a key to their defense, and they will need to open the checkbook once again to bring him back to Foxborough.
Last off-season, the Patriots paid big money to upgrade their receiving corps. They added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne at wide receiver and Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith at tight end. However, they still lack a true number one receiver for Jones, which could help accelerate his development. Robinson could be that guy.
He struggled last season and was limited to 12 games, where he finished with 38 receptions for 410 yards and one touchdown. However, the previous two seasons, he went over 1000 yards, and that was with Mitchell Trubisky under center. There is no doubt that Robinson could become the number one option if he were to join the Patriots. Mac Jones would love that.
In the AFC Wild Card Game, the Bills showed just how bad the Pats defense needs to get faster, younger, and more athletic. They will have some critical decisions to make at linebacker. Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Jamie Collins are all free agents. Hightower and Collins are both 32, and the Patriots have to get younger at the position.
Evans is a former first-round pick out of Alabama, who the Tennessee Titans drafted in 2018. That is one of the reasons he could be a target for the Patriots, as he played under Nick Saban with the Crimson Tide. He was limited to 12 games last season after starting all of them in 2019 and 2020. He finished with 57 tackles and two interceptions this season.
The Patriots have been good at finding undrafted free agents in their secondary. Jackson and former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler come to mind. The Patriots signed J.C. Jackson as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2018. He has gone from undrafted to a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro player. However, he is now a free agent who may be too expensive for the Patriots to keep.
Like Jackson and Butler, Ward was an undrafted free agent the Dallas Cowboys signed in 2018 out of Middle Tennessee. The Cowboys would trade him to the Kansas City Chiefs during training camp. He has started 43 career games and finished 2021 with 67 tackles, ten passes defended, and two interceptions this season. He is not a shutdown cornerback, but he would do well in the Patriot’s secondary, especially if the Patriots cannot resign Jackson.
Brown was taken in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of UCLA by the Titans. Since then, he has started 39 games and recorded 385 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 28 passes defended, and four interceptions. However, he had a down season in 2021, as he appeared in 10 games while starting six.
Brown finished with 55 tackles, two passes defended, and one interception. He missed some time with injuries, and once the Titans signed Zach Cunningham, he lost playing time. He would add youth and versatility to a Patriots linebacking corps.
The Patriots returned to the playoffs this season after missing them in 2020. So the defense will probably be the way they go in free agency and the draft. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But they do need a number one receiver to help with Jones’s development, which is essential if they want to overtake the Bills in the AFC East.
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