FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes surrounding the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Plans start internally: When agent Drew Rosenhaus made his annual visit to Patriots training camp in late July 2022, checking in with coach Bill Belichick and his various clients on the team, he had a strategic decision to make with receiver Jakobi Meyers.
He could push for a contract extension. Meyers was coming off a season in which he led the team with 83 catches and had been offered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent ($3.9 million). He was underpaid and deserved a beating.
Otherwise, Rosenhaus could preach patience, reminding Meyers that he was a year away from hitting the open market, which is the ideal situation for players to get the most lucrative contract in a competitive bidding situation. The hard thing to predict was how the additions of receivers DeVante Parker (via trade) and Tyquan Thornton (second-round pick) would affect Meyers’ production and whether Meyers could stay healthy throughout the season.
It’s unknown how far Rosenhaus and Belichick ever got in their discussions last July, but with the 2023 legal negotiating period set to begin Monday at 12 p.m. ET, Rosenhaus and Meyers (67 catches, 804 yards, 6 TDs 14 games las2022) are now in a much stronger leverage position. A combination of Meyers’ age (26), intangibles and a few other equally productive pass-catchers in free agency contribute to that position (Meyers is ranked as ESPN’s No. 13 free agent).
According to an NFL executive source, one team that has explored the potential market for Meyers believes it would have to be in the $15 million per year range to sign him.
If that’s the way it plays out (and projections don’t always come true), some around the NFL don’t see the Patriots keeping Meyers based on their history.
Meyers’ status should be one of the first dominoes to fall in New England’s free agent approach, but it’s far from the only one.
Defensive back Jonathan Jones has been waiting for things to heat up with his situation as he and agent Andy Simms see if the open market sees him as more of a pure slot (projected $6-9 million per year) or beyond.
Jones, 29, said there have been talks about returning for an eighth season in New England, adding, “There’s definitely interest on both sides to make something happen.”
As is often the case, the Patriots will first look to gain clarity on high-level internal free agents (eg Meyers, Jones) before considering how aggressive they will be on outside options. One factor that could drive their decision-making is that this is not viewed as a strong overall free agent class.
2. Bates = Gilmore; In 2017, Belichick surprised the start of free agency by signing Stephon Gilmore to a market-leading deal. If Belichick takes a similar approach this year — targeting a player with high-end traits in his prime for a big contract — there’s someone who stands out more as a Belichick-type fit: Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. Belichick has said McCourty’s presence allows the Patriots to play defense the way they want, and a situation with the 26-year-old Bates could stabilize the Patriots for years to come as they try to keep Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen & Co. in the mighty AFC.
3. Suits Patriots: If Belichick takes a more measured approach, letting the market settle or work more than the projected middle, Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen (Boston College) caught my eye as a player who had success in the season against New England who may spark interest as a versatile option for a multi-forward unit. The Patriots arguably had more trouble blocking Allen (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defense) than they had JJ Watt in their Dec. 12 win over Arizona. A few others on my “Patriots fits” list in the “more measured” category: Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, Chargers linebacker/special teamer Drue Tranquill, Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. and the Buccaneers let go of tackle Donovan Smith (who played for offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien at Penn State).
4. OBJ Training: Odell Beckham Jr. held a practice Friday in Arizona, and Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports reported the Patriots planned to be in attendance. That makes sense, because with Meyers’ projected lucrative free agency making him a flight risk and Nelson Agholor expected to depart as well, the team will have to look at all options to add to the thin receiver depth chart along with returnees Parker, Thornton, Kendrick Bourne; , Lynn Bowden Jr. and Tre Nixon.
5. Two-digit options: The Patriots enter the 2023 draft with 10 picks after receiving two compensatory picks Thursday (fourth round, sixth round) for the losses of JC Jackson and Ted Karras. Such volume is not unusual, as under Belichick the Patriots have made 10 or more picks in a single draft 10 different times (2000, ’01, ’03, ’06, ’09, ’10, ’15, ’19, ‘ 20, ’22).
Patriots 2023 draft picks:
🏈 3-76 (from Carolina)
🏈 4-107 (from LA Rams)
🏈 6-184 (from Carolina)
🏈 6-187 (from Las Vegas)
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 9, 2023
6. Third place QB: The Patriots have informed veteran Brian Hoyer of their intent to release him until the start of free agency, which opens up the third spot behind starter Mac Jones and backup Bailey Zappe. While one might think that adding a veteran soundboard is the way to go, the choice here would be to have a youngster continue to feed the pipeline. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf drafted seven quarterbacks from 1992 to 1999, a streak that produced Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck behind Brett Favre, and is often cited as a reason it’s good to draft and develop QBs. Wolf’s son, Eliot, currently serves as the Patriots’ Director of Scouting.
7. RFA Offers: Do the Patriots see quarterback Miles Bryant as worthy of a one-year, $2.6 million deal? The assumption is yes, but that’s a question they’ll have to answer decisively in the coming days, as Bryant (61% snaps, 68 tackles, 1 INT) is a restricted free agent and teams have until Wednesday to decide if they will bid RFA at the following levels:
First round: $6.0 million
Second round: $4.3 million
Initial round: $2.7 million
Right of first refusal: $2.6 million
8. Tawai counts: Linebacker Jahlani Tavai (50% playing time, 63 tackles in 2022) will not appear as part of this snapshot of the Patriots’ 2023 free agent signings because he signed a two-year, $4.4 million extension in November. That dynamic is something former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli has emphasized a few times — don’t overlook those who previously signed deals that would be part of the 2023 free agent class.
9. Cardona’s Health: Long-timer Joe Cardona suffered a torn tendon in his foot that caused him to miss the final three games of the 2022 season, but the free agent didn’t need surgery and has since returned to full health. He had appeared in 140 consecutive games before the injury. The Snappers generally don’t make headlines in free agency, but Cardona’s consistency on the field — and the way he’s connected the franchise to the military through his Naval Academy roots — puts him in a different league than most.
10. Did you know: Since compensatory picks were first awarded by the NFL in 1994, the Patriots have received 48 of them. Only the Ravens (55), Cowboys (52) and Packers (49) have received more.