By Nick Adamopoulos –
It was no surprise that the Patriots did not make any big splashes when free agency started, but few thought that the Patriots would sit idly by as the rest of the AFC improved. The team was able to bring back Devin McCourty, Nick Folk, Matthew Slater, James White and Trent Brown. That group brings back veteran leadership, reliability, and an understanding of the Patriot Way.
What the Patriots have failed to do is bring in other free agents to improve the team. Big name signings? Not at all. The Patriots signed veteran running back Ty Montgomery on a modest two-year deal to be a break in case of emergency third down running back in case James White is still dealing with issues from his season ending hip injury. Corner back Malcolm Butler is back on a two-year deal after taking a year off from football last season. Can Butler fill JC Jackson’s spot? Unlikely. The team also traded Chase Winovich for Mack Wilson. Wilson has had a career defined by losing playing time over each of his first three seasons.
The Patriots have not addressed the offensive line issues that they had last year. Bringing Trent Brown back allows for the right tackle spot to be filled, but the Patriots traded away their pro bowl caliber right guard, Shaq Mason, for a fifth-round draft pick, leaving a hole on the right side of the line. Ted Karras, last year’s starting left guard and the team’s most consistent lineman last season was not resigned and ended up in Cincinnati to protect Joe Burrow rather than Mac Jones. What does that leave the Patriot’s for offensive linemen next season? Isaiah Wynn is back on his fifth-year option to play left tackle but has shown a concerning injury history and inconsistency protecting the blind side. Michael Onwenu is likely to take over Mason’s open right guard position, and has shown promise in his young career, but is still an unproven commodity. Beyond Brown and starting center David Andrews, the offensive line needs improvement, and yet Belichick has not taken steps to improve the protection for Mac Jones.
The team’s biggest spot of weakness last season was its lack of a playmaking wide receiver. Right now, the Patriots would start the season with Jakobi Myers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and N’Keal Harry on the depth chart. Harry has been a bust over three seasons and there is no guarantee that he makes the squad going into the 2022 season. All of the big-name free agent wide receivers have signed elsewhere. If the Patriots are unable to find a trade partner to acquire a talented outside receiver, fans better hope that Belichick finds an upgrade in the upcoming draft.
The Patriots entered free agency with limited cap space and the team did very little to maneuver current contracts in a manner to manipulate the cap number so that the team could address some of its needs. Instead, the brain trust in Foxboro sat back and watched as other teams in the AFC improved. The Raiders, Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Broncos, and Colts all improved their teams through trades or free agent signings. The AFC now has Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking teams with weapons superior to those that Mac Jones currently has.
In 2021, The Patriots took a step forward after a disappointing 2020 campaign. With the way that free agency has started, and the trades that other AFC teams have made this off season, it is hard not to envision the Patriots stumbling in 2022. The team drafts at pick 21 this year, a selection that might make it difficult to target a top wide receiver, corner back, or offensive line target. Instead of finding a way to address team needs in free agency, the Patriots find themselves with more questions than answers heading towards the draft. With a tough schedule in 2022 and improvements within the division, a wild card spot is no guarantee for a team whose fan base has been spoiled by success since 2000. Fans chant “In Bill We Trust” as a motto to support the team’s de facto general manager, but as of right now, Belichick the general manager has failed Belichick the head coach during free agency.