Predicting Stay or Leave with the Patriots 2022 Free Agents

With the 2022 NFL offseason now in full swing, free agency is quickly approaching. The New England Patriots are set to have 20 players hit the 2022 free agency market. A few of New England’s free agents are restricted, but a large chunk are unrestricted, thus making for a very interesting next couple of months.

The Patriots undoubtedly have some tough decisions to make this free agency period. Trent Brown, Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson, and Dont’a Hightower are just a few of the Patriots’ high-profile free agents. Major changes could be coming to New England, but it’s also conceivable they bring back a majority of their major pieces.

Currently, New England doesn’t have much cap space, but as we laid out in this article, the Patriots have plenty of ways to open up a considerable amount of space if they deem it worthwhile. With all that said, here are my stay-or-leave predictions for the Patriots 2022 free agency class.

Patriots 2022 Free Agents

Devin McCourty, S (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs 

Despite being 34 years old, McCourty just finished up yet another stellar NFL season. His pass coverage and leadership skills remain a huge asset to an NFL secondary. 

Assuming McCourty doesn’t change his mind on playing in the 2022 season, he’s going to have a solid free agency market. Other teams may give the Patriots a run for their money, but I believe McCourty finds his way back to New England for next season.

Dont’a Hightower, LB (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere or retires

To be clear, Hightower is a Patriots legend and should forever be remembered that way, but it looks like the time has come for new faces at the linebacker position. With offenses in the NFL being so pass-happy, having linebackers with coverage skills is essential. At this point in his career, Hightower simply doesn’t have value in coverage. Hightower even had his fair share of struggles in the run game last season too.

This isn’t to say he holds no value. Hightower is a defensive leader and can still make impact plays here and there. If he decides to keep playing and doesn’t receive traction in the free agency market, it’s very possible the Patriots bring Hightower back on an incentive-laden deal. Ultimately though, I believe Hightower and New England move on.

J.C. Jackson, CB (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

For me, this was one of the hardest predictions to make. I can see a scenario in which Bill Belichick brings Jackson back on a long-term deal to anchor the secondary for years to come. It would make sense. Belichick knows the value of a strong secondary and Jackson is one of the best defensive playmakers in the NFL. Losing him would be a devastating blow to the cornerback room.

That said, another scenario I can see is Jackson getting an enormous deal on the free-agent market and the Patriots opting to let him walk. A 26-year-old lockdown corner will be in very high demand. I don’t see a way in which the Patriots can bring him back without spending premium money. Will New England be will be doing to that? It’s hard to say. Because I have to make a prediction, I’ll lean towards Jackson finding a big-money deal elsewhere.

Trent Brown, OT (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

Brown’s free agency is a bit of an unknown. On one hand, Brown is clearly a great fit in New England and by all accounts, he loves being a Patriot. The best football of his career has come in a Patriots uniform. Additionally, the organization could use some stability at tackle given Isaiah Wynn only has one more year left on his deal.

On the flip side, Brown has proven to be an extremely valuable offensive tackle. That’s a position in high demand across the league. Would Brown take a mini hometown discount to stay with the Patriots? It’s a toss-up, but I predict they work something out.

Ted Karras, IOL (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

I’m sure the Patriots would love to keep Karras, but he may have played his way out of New England. Karras was an above-average starting guard in 2021. With so many teams around the league needing offensive line help, I could see the veteran guard netting himself a nice payday in free agency. That said, if the market on Karras stays low enough it feels like a no-brainer for New England and Karras to work out a deal.

Matthew Slater, ST (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs or retires

This one is simple: Slater is coming back to New England or retiring. 

Jamie Collins, LB (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

Would it be shocking if Collins sticks around on a cheap one-year prove-it deal? No, but at some point, New England needs to rebuild the linebacker position. Collins is a toss-up for me because I don’t see him being a costly depth option, but I learn towards New England moving on and fully restructuring the linebacker position come 2022.

James White, RB (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

If White is healthy I don’t see any reason the Patriots shouldn’t bring him back on another one-year deal. Re-signing White won’t come with a steep price tag and he’s a reliable weapon for Mac Jones coming out the backfield.

Brandon King, ST (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

King is a core special teamer and a guy Belichick has extended in the past. With Slater’s future up in the air, keeping King around as a veteran special teamer seems like the play.

Brandon Bolden, RB (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

Bolden is coming off the best offensive NFL season of his career. He filled in for White and did an admirable job.

While he played the role of receiving back, he also continued his special teams’ role. Bolden’s versatility makes him a no-brainer to bring back on a deal that likely won’t cost much.

Nick Folk, K (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

One of the few redeeming aspects of the Patriots’ 2021 special teams was Folk. He’s one of the most consistent kickers in the league. 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

The Patriots will want Bentley back in the fold, given he’s coming off his best NFL season, but I don’t believe they’ll overpay. Bentley, while a good player, is still limited in coverage so the price has to be right for a new contract. If I had to guess, I foresee another organization with Patriots ties giving Bentley a bump in pay that makes the Patriots let him walk.

Troy Fumagalli, TE (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

With Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene there’s no real reason to bring back Fumagalli.

Brian Hoyer, QB (UFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs or retires

Unless Hoyer retires, I see him back in New England. Remember, the Patriots lost a ton of brainpower on their offensive staff this offseason. Keeping Hoyer around to help develop Mac Jones makes sense.

Carl Davis, DT (UFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

Davis was excellent in training camp and the preseason, but he struggled in the regular season. His playing time gradually reduced as the season went on. The two sides going in different directions is the most likely outcome.

Jakobi Meyers, WR (RFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

Meyers is never going to be a true number one wideout, but he’s very good as a supplemental receiver. All Meyers does is get open and consistently move the chains. Pretty good right? 

Because Meyers is a restricted free agent he’ll almost assuredly be back for 2022.

Gunner Olszewski, ST (RFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

As a restricted free agent, Olszewski will be relatively cheap to bring back. He may not have had an outstanding season in 2021, but as we all saw in 2020 Olszewski has All-Pro returner capabilities.

Jakob Johnson, FB (RFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

While I expect Johnson to be back with the Patriots, I am curious if the organization once again brings in competition at the fullback position this offseason.

Terez Hall, LB (ERFA)

Prediction: Re-Signs

Brining back Hall, an exclusive right free agent, should be expected. At the very least, Hall can provide cheap depth at a linebacker position.

Alex Redmond, G (SFA)

Prediction: Leaves to go elsewhere

I see the Patriots exploring elsewhere for depth along the interior line.

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