Taking a look at the Patriot’s upcoming unrestricted free agents not named Tom Brady
With Tom Brady’s pending free agency taking up all the air space in the New England sports world over the past month or so, the free agency of numerous key member of the Patriots is going severely under the radar. Key members of Dynasty 2.0 (2013-Present) will be free to ink up with whoever they please come March 18th. Even if Brady does return, there will still be multiple holes to fill, especially on the defensive end. Let’s go through them and examine their situations.
Kyle Van Noy – Linebacker
What an absolute steal Belichick and Caserio got in 2016 when they dealt a 7th-rounder to former comrade Bob Quin of the Detroit Lions for Van Noy. Van Noy, a second round pick in 2013, became an indispensable part of the Patriots defense from the moment he was brought in. He’s the perfect player for Belichick’s hybrid front, he can play all four linebacker spots in a 3-4, and even has the strength to kick in and play defensive end in a 4-3, or even off the ball linebacker. This year, as the Patriots shifted to more of a pure 3-4 look, Van Noy played almost exclusively on the edge, and as a result had a career high in sacks at 6.5. The increased production and position change likely priced him out of New England this off-season. Teams are always looking to over-pay for pass rushing, especially in the modern day NFL, and I’d expect teams like Miami, Detroit, Chicago, and Arizona to bid for his services next month. Van Noy has been fantastic, but just as Belichick found Van Noy off the scrap heap, he can find another to get similar production at a much lesser price.
The Verdict – Van Noy reunites with Brian Flores and the Dolphins on a 4 year $40 million dollar contract.
Devin McCourty – Safety
When you think of consummate professional, Devin McCourty should be at the top of that list. The always accountable Pro-Bowler has spent his entire career in New England after being drafted in 2010 as a cornerback in the 1st round. McCourty has become a fixture in this Patriots defense, missing just five games during his ten years in New England. He’s the perfect example of what a Patriot should strive to be. Reliable, authentic, strong-willed, and frankly excellent at his job. McCourty is one of the few players Belichick has deemed worthy of giving a market value contract in 2014 after the Eagles came in and tried to blow him away and woo him towards the city of Brotherly Love. He was even able to convince his twin brother Jason into taking a below market level contract to patrol the back end with him. With that being said, Jason also has a team option for next year, so in all likelihood, if the Patriots decide to bring Devin back, it’s pretty much a lock that Jason will be back as well. He isn’t going to be cheap, with top end safeties in the league garnering over $10 million per year, but his play hasn’t dropped off much, and safety is a position that can be played at a high level by guys into their 30’s. There will be plenty suitors, such as the Giants, Colts, Packers, and possibly the Saints, but I can’t see McCourty leaving at this point.
The Verdict – Both McCourty’s will be back next year, with Devin signing a 2 year $22 million contract.
Joe Thuney – Guard
Talk about a guy who simply does his job. Look at it this way, since Thuney entered the league in 2016 as a third-round pick out of NC State, the Patriots have played in 58 games including playoffs, and Thuney has started each one of them. As an offensive lineman battling in the trenches every game, that is simply astounding. It shows another level of toughness and determination to be able deal with injuries and fight through the pain week in and week out and still play at an extremely high level. Thuney has improved each year in the league, earning second team All-Pro honors in 2019. His increased performance in 2019, coupled with fellow guard Shaq Mason’s big-time extension, probably priced him out of New England. It always seemed like the Patriots were going to have to pick between Mason or Thuney long term, and they placed their bet on Mason when he inked a 5 year $50 million extension prior to the start of the 2018-19 season. Thuney will be in high demand this off-season with teams like the Jets, Giants, Browns, Saints, and Cardinals all in the mix for Thuney’s services.
The Verdict – Thuney heads to Cleveland on a 5 year $70 million deal resetting the market for top-tier guards.
Jamie Collins – Linebacker
The ever-erratic linebacker had a solid year in his return to New England after an ugly departure at the trade deadline in 2016. Collins played at an All-Pro level for the first half of the season, seemingly making impact plays from all levels of the defense, but his play seemed to drop off considerably during November and December. As a result, it doesn’t look like he’ll be getting the big time deal all of us expected him to get in September. Teams will be weary of the effort issues he had in Cleveland and his mid-season disappearance last year. Collins should be a luxury piece for any team looking to bring him in. It’s just too hard to rely on him based on his track record. There are times when he looks like he could win defensive player of the year, forcing fumbles and makes plays in the backfield, and others where he looks completely lost, overshooting gaps and falling for play-action. Belichick’s reclamation project is likely looking at a small market with teams like the Packers, Eagles, Saints, Rams, and Broncos vying for his services, however the market will be as unpredictable as his play.
The Verdict – Collins comes back to the place where he’s had the most success and signs a 2 year $10 million contract with the Patriots
Danny Shelton – Defensive Tackle
Shelton had a bit of a resurgence last year. After a down year in which a lot was expected from him after the trade from Cleveland, Shelton had a much more defined role in the defense. A large factor was that Shelton was freed up to rush the passer and push the pocket, in what was a much better fit for his skill set. He is best served as an active nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Shelton’s reestablishing of himself likely earned himself a solid payday in the off-season. Shelton would certainly welcomed back in Foxboro, however Belichick won’t overpay, and could probably find an adequate replacement for much less. I could see teams such as the Dolphins, Colts, Jets, Ravens and Rams all taking a look at Shelton.
The Verdict – Shelton gets his payday, as he replaces Michael Brockers in LA, signing a 3 year $15 million deal with the Rams.
Ted Karras – Center
The longtime backup had a career year in 2019, starting a career high 15 games at center filling in for David Andrews. Karras, a former 6th round pick, had a very solid year in 2019. He was an excellent pass protector, and while his run blocking left something to be desired, he seemingly got better every week. Keeping Karras will be tough, as teams will likely pay him starter-level money to play one of the interior spots. The decision on Karras will likely come down to how comfortable the Patriots are with both David Andrews and Hjalte Froholdt. Andrews, the star center, suffered blood clots last summer and missed the entirety of the season. It’s unclear at the moment if Andrews will be able to play, but all signs are pointing towards a return to football sometime soon. Froholdt, a 4th rounder last year, got off to a rough start in the preseason, which was compounded by a season ending shoulder injury. In a perfect world, Froholdt would replace Thuney on the left side and Andrews would man the pivot. If the Pats end up bringing Karras back, it will likely be to replace Thuney at guard. The market still may end up being too rich, as teams will be always be on the hunt for reliable and durable lineman. The Jets, Giants, Rams, and Saints should all be looking at Karras.
The Verdict – Karras gets a shot to start, as he signs a 3 year $18 million deal with the Jets.
Elandon Roberts – Linebacker
Roberts had a down year overall in 2019. With the defense in nickel most of the time, Roberts didn’t see the field nearly as much as he did during the year prior, especially with the addition of Jamie Collins. Roberts did however, fill in adamantly for James Develin at fullback during the second half of the season. Roberts will likely be seeking a place where his playing time will be increased, so I would say the odds of a return are relatively low, especially with Ja’Whaun Bentley still in the mix at inside linebacker. The only way I can envision a return is if both Van Noy and Collins depart. Could see the Chiefs, Rams, Dolphins, Steelers and Jets in the market for his services.
The Verdict – Roberts joins Brian Flores in Miami on a 2 year $6 million deal.
Phillip Dorsett – Wide Receiver
Frustrating is a word that I’d describe Phillip Dorsett’s Patriots tenure. The former high profile first round pick certainly had his moments, none bigger than his touchdown at the end of the first half of the AFC title game in 2018. It’s clear that Dorsett will never reach his high ceiling, but he can still serve a decent role as a 4th wide receiver in an offense. Too often in the past two seasons Dorsett was relied upon the be a second or third option in the offense, and frankly, he just was not capable of it. The speed is always there, but the separation and route running, coupled with a complete lack of run-after-the-catch ability leaves a lot to be desired. Would I take him back on a minimum deal? Sure, but if he is anything more than the 4th option on the depth chart, I’ll riot. I’d imagine some more vertically-focused offenses will take a look at Dorsett and fall in love with his speed. Think Saints, Packers, Bucs, and Cardinals.
The Verdict – Dorsett signs a 1 year $3 million deal with the Saints, as he joins a deeper offense more tailored to his skill set.
Matthew Slater – Special Teams
The special teams ace had another stand out year in 2019. A veteran presence in the locker room, and an outstanding leader, Slater represents everything that is good about the New England Patriots. You don’t let guys like Slater leave, especially when his position costs so little. Slater won’t be going anywhere, despite the interest his free agency will gather.
The Verdict – Slater re-ups on a 1 year $2.5 million deal, preserving his legacy as an unsung Patriot hero.
*All stats via NFL.com