Analysis

State of the Patriots: Assessing Offensive Needs and How to Fill Them

If you’re looking for some good news following the Patriots 7-9 2020 season, look no further than the 2021 offseason. New England is armed with a ton of cap space, and a good number of valuable draft picks. The Patriots will need to put those resources to good use as the roster has several holes that need filling. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some realistic ways New England can retool the roster. These are certainly not all of the offensive options on the table for the Patriots this offseason, but we wanted to highlight the targets we felt fit best as the offseason begins. (Note: All estimated contract values were calculated using spotrac.)

QB

Need: Very High 

Veteran options: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo (if the 49ers move on)

Ryan Fitzpatrick played solid football last year, before losing his starting spot to Tua Tagovailoa. At 38 years old, Fitzpatrick likely only has another year or two left, but that timeline works out perfectly if the Patriots decide to draft their quarterback of the future in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Cam Newton isn’t a name many fans want to see on a list of potential quarterbacks for their team in 2021, but like it or not he’s one of the most realistic options. Despite his lack of production on the field in 2020, coaches and players alike have raved about Newton’s leadership and how great of a teammate he was. Another year in the system and a real offseason along with upgraded offensive weapons would undoubtedly help Newton improve in 2021. The question is, how much better would he be? Enough to justify bringing him back?

Jimmy Garoppolo back in New England feels like a natural fit. However as of now, Garoppolo is still a member of the 49ers, and without an upgrade at quarterback on the horizon, it doesn’t’ feel like the 49ers would move on just to move on. If Garoppolo does find his way on the market, it would be shocking if the Patriots didnt have any interest. 

Potential draft options: Trey Lance North Dakota State (RD 1), Mac Jones Alabama (RD 1)

Realistically, it’s a long shot at best, for the Patriots to land any of the top three quarterbacks. Trey Lance, likely the fourth quarterback off the board, may also be off the table depending on how the board shakes out. A trade up in the 7-10 range would likely be necessary to draft Lance. Sure, there is a slim chance he falls out of the top ten, but as of right now, it feels unlikely. Lance has elite tools. He has a rocket for an arm and he can run the ball effectively. If Lance can reach his full potential his ceiling is astronomically high.

Mac Jones, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t require the Patriots to trade up. However, there are some doubts as to whether or not he’s worthy of being selected at 15. Is he merely a product of Alabama’s system and skill positions loaded with dynamic players? Will he need to be in a near-perfect situation to be a productive starter? Do his intangibles outweigh his physical limitations? The Patriots need to find the answers to these questions in the coming months. 

RB 

Need: Low 

Veteran option: Le’Veon Bell

I know, I know. Le’Veon Bell is far from the player he once was. But, Bill Belichick did reportedly make a hard push to sign him when he was released from the Jets earlier this year. With the uncertain futures of both James White and Rex Burkhead, the Patriots may look to add another pass-catching back, which is an area where Bell can still contribute. Plus, he likely wouldn’t cost much more than the veteran minimum. With Belichick’s knack for squeezing another productive year or two out of aging vets, this move could be a smart one for the Patriots. 

Potential draft option: Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas (RD 5/6)

The Patriots probably won’t invest much draft capital into the running back position in 2021, but if they do Rakeem Boyd would be a nice target in the late rounds. Boyd has some experience as a pass-catcher throughout his career at Arkansas and could serve as a rotational back in that role.

WR

Need: Very High 

Veteran options: Odell Beckham Jr, Kenny Golladay, Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis

Odell Beckham Jr. New England trade rumors for the billionth year in a row? Yes, I’m really going there. There are rumors Cleveland could be looking to move on from Beckham this offseason, and the Patriots should absolutely be interested. His cap hits of 15.75 million in 2021 and 15 million in both 2022 and 2023 are a relative bargain for a player of his caliber, despite coming off an ACL injury. 

Kenny Golladay is coming off an injury-riddled season of his own (only playing in 5 games) but is expected to be fully healthy by the start of the league year. Being 6’4″ with high-grade athleticism, Golladay is a big play waiting to happen and his contract demands will reflect that. It’ll likely take between 16-18 million per year to land Golladay. If there was ever a year for the Patriots to open up the checkbook for a wide receiver, this is it. 

Another popular name linked to the Patriots is Curtis Samuel, and for good reason. The 24-year-old has flashed dynamic playmaking ability in Carolina. Plus, his versatility, lining up in the slot, out wide, and even in the backfield, makes him an ideal target for the receiver needy Patriots. Samuel is not a true number one receiver, however, and can likely be signed in the 10-12 million dollar range. 

There’s no better time to have a career year than in your contract year. Corey Davis is about to find that out, as he had his best season in the NFL in 2020. He racked up 65 catches for 984 yards. Davis is more of a tier two free-agent wideout, with a projected $8-10 million dollar price tag. If the Patriots strike out or don’t want to spend on the big-name wideouts in free agency Davis and Samuel alike should be top targets.

Potential draft option: Rashod Bateman Minnesota (RD 1)

Assuming the “big three” of Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith are off the board, Bateman is a no brainer if the Patriots are looking to upgrade their receiving core in round one. After spending a majority of his time out wide in 2018 and 2019, Bateman spent a lot of the 2020 season in the slot, and he succeeded in both. In addition to being versatile, Bateman is flat out a really good route runner with excellent releases. He just knows how to get open. 

TE

Need: Very High 

Veteran options: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith

Bill Belichick’s admiration for Hunter Henry is well known. Belichick mentioned during the 2020 season that he’s been scouting Henry since high school. The Patriots will have to be willing to pay up big money to get Henry, as he is the top tight end available in free agency. The 26-year-old played out the 2020 season on the franchise tag and is likely looking to cash in this offseason. A deal consisting of $11-13 million per year would be the going rate for Henry. 

Jonnu Smith will be a valuable commodity this offseason, and he’ll come with a cheaper price tag than Henry. Smith is a dynamic athlete and a YAC monster who would immediately boot the Patriots’ passing offense. While his blocking needs some improvement, New England isn’t exactly in a position to nitpick after getting almost zero contributions from their tight ends in 2020. 

Potential draft options: Pat Freiermuth Penn State (RD 2), Hunter Long Boston College (RD 3/4)

I know that Kyle Pitts is the name everyone wants to see here but he will almost certainly be selected before the Patriots are on the clock. A couple more realistic options would be Pat Freiermuth and Hunter Long. Freiermuth fits the profile of exactly what the Patriots want at the tight end position. Blocking at the tight end spot is still valued in the Patriots’ offense and Freirmuth can certainly bring that to the table. He isn’t a slouch in the passing game either, although he’s not as dynamic as Pitts.

Meanwhile, Long isn’t as established as Freiermuth as a blocker or as a receiver, but he’s got some potential. Long produced a ton in the passing game at Boston College. Unfortunately, Long just isn’t all that athletic and it limits his upside. Although there is a high need at the position, the Patriots may just want to prioritize signing a veteran to make an immediate impact, barring Pitts falling in their lap at 15 or Freiumuth in the second, instead of looking to the draft for a solution.

OT

Need: Moderate 

Veteran options: Kelvin Beachum

It’s difficult to project the need here without knowing whether the team views Michael Onwenu as a tackle or a guard going forward. Until it’s clear how those pieces will fit together in 2021, the state of the Patriots’ offensive line remains somewhat of a mystery. Regardless, the Patriots may want to acquire a veteran tackle. That guy could be Kelvin Beachum. He had a solid year in Arizona last season and could step right in and start when/if needed.

Potential draft options: Alex Leatherwood Alabama (RD 1/2), Samuel Cosmi Texas (RD 1/2)

This year’s offensive tackle class is loaded with a ton of talented players. One of the top guys in that group is Alex Leatherwood. Leatherwood can play both tackle and guard, but he spent most of his time at tackle in college. How the Patriots view him positionally could impact whether he’s a top target for the Patriots. Regardless, Leatherwood has great strength and would be a very nice addition to an already good offensive line.

Samuel Cosmi is a big guy standing at 6’7″ and weighing 309 pounds. On top of all that height, Cosmi has a ton of athleticism. It’s important to note Cosmi also played both right and left tackle in college showcasing a bit of versatility. Although he’s reportedly a little raw in his technique, he has the potential to be a second-round steal (assuming he falls that far), if the Patriots can develop him.

IOL 

Need: Low 

Veteran options: none 

I’m operating under the assumption that David Andrews returns and Joe Thuney cashes in elsewhere. If that’s the case, the Patriots are likely all set on the interior with the emergence of Onwenu. New England has been remarkably successful at drafting interior linemen in the middle rounds, so they should look to the draft for depth instead of free agency. 

Potential draft option: Deonte Brown, Alabama (RD 3/4)

A massive human at 6’4″ 350lbs, Deonte Brown is basically Alabama’s version of Michael Onwenu. Brown may have to lose some weight to increase his ability to go against faster more athletic defensive lineman. That may cause him to slide down most team’s draft boards similar to Onwenu in 2020. However, just like Onwenu, Brown was known as a mauler in college, dominating matchups by pure force. He’s a guy to watch in the middle rounds.

As the offseason progresses we’ll take a deeper look at the position of needs.

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