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Fixing The New England Patriots Stage One: Impact Free Agents

The New England Patriots have many holes to fix this offseason, but it is not insurmountable if approached with the right level of aggressiveness. There are different phases of the offseason, and they each work in concert; first is this franchise tag window, then free agency, and finally, the draft.

With the explosion of the NFL cap up to $255.6 million (an increase of $30.6 million), New England is in excellent shape with close to $90 million available to spend, so let's create a path forward to become a real contender.

Franchise Tag Stage .5

The Patriots need to use this tag in order to keep one of their best offensive players. Michael Onwenu must stay a Patriot, and they need some stabilization on that offensive line if the team is going to improve.

Dugger is a good player who should be extended, but Onwenu has expressed his displeasure with how things have gone in New England. The tag gives them more time. I've detailed this and more in my article on all 32 teams' use of the tag.

Free Agency Stage One

New England has the money to attack their holes with solid talent, but no one can build a team solely from free agency. That doesn't mean they should sit out, especially with this team's resources. Obviously, I am not a salary cap master, but for this exercise, I did the best I could on Over The Cap to get the best estimate possible.

First, we can tackle the in-house free agents we should bring back. I already used the tag on Onwenu ($20,985,000), leaving the team with $65 million. Cutting JC Jackson would save the Patriots $14,375,000, bringing them back to $79 million.

Kyle Dugger 3 Year $60 Million ($40 Million Guaranteed)

Dugger should be a Patriot for another portion of his career. He's done everything right as a professional. He's a great player, leader, and foundational piece on this defense. New England has the money.

There is no reason he shouldn't be back. With most of his cap hits spaced out in 2025 and 2026, his cap hit for 2024 is only $9,225,000, leaving the Pats with 70 million.

Hunter Henry 2 Year $12 Million (Fully Guaranteed)

Henry has been a solid piece of this otherwise abysmal Patriots offense, but just because he can't carry a team doesn't mean we should let him go. New England has no Tight End signed for the 2024 season, and Hunter is a veteran and reliable player who can bring a portion of stability to a much different-looking offensive unit.

He is taking a slight pay cut to his market value, but it's fully guaranteed and gives him security; he doesn't have to move his family and has mostly enjoyed his time in New England. The cap hit for the 2024 cap season is $7,210,000, giving the Patriots $63 million in cap space.

Josh Uche 2 Year $12 Million ($10 Million Guaranteed)

Some people may find this contract a massive underpay, but I don't think he will have a very large market. His breakout season came opposite of Judon, who takes most of the protection. Uche is a passing downs player, so my thinking is teams won't want to exert themselves for a player who may not be able to contribute as much.

Uche and Mayo have a good relationship, so I think that plays a factor in having him return. He is still only 26, giving him time to get another contract if he produces like he wants to be paid. He will carry a 6,161,000 cap hit for the 2024 season, meaning they would have 57 million in cap space. This is the in-house signing that I think is least likely to happen.

New Faces To Help Elevate New England

As I said earlier, a franchise can't build their whole team from free agency, but what they can do is satisfy enough needs to make sure they don't have to reach for positions when it comes time to draft weekend. The fact that this a new regime in New England and they have money to play with means they should be bringing in new talent. Starting with what I think are the most likely signings in descending order.

The most significant needs for this team in order are; Quarterback, Wide Reciever, Tackle, Linebacker, Defensive End, and Cornerback, I think I did a damn good job covering most of these bases.

Calvin Ridley WR 3 Year $49 Million ($41 Million Guaranteed)

Obviously, Tee Higgins got tagged, Michael Pittman is likely tagged or extended by Indy, and Mike Evans just had a massive season, so he's in line for a huge payday. Ridley is 29 but missed two seasons of football that had nothing to do with injuries.

He showed he was still capable last season with the Jaguars with 76 catches, 1016 yards, and eight touchdowns, even though they weren't all that creative with his usages. Now that he has a year under his belt at NFL game speed, he could improve on these numbers.

Having more than 75% of his contract fully guaranteed is the reason why he would choose New England as his next destination. I would put a stipulation about suspensions, voiding some of this money in his contract as well.

He would get $13 million guaranteed for 2024, then $20 million and $17 million in the subsequent seasons. His cap number for 2024 would be 15,150,000, bringing the Patriots' cap space to $42 million.

Jonah Williams Tackle 4 Years $38 Million ($36 Million Guaranteed)

While tagging Onwenu and signing Williams, the team can draft and develop tackles without throwing them in the fire in their first season, or if they draft another tackle who shows out in camp, they can kick Onwenu back into right guard and further solidify the protection. This also allows them to be able to protect whoever they bring in to be the Patriots' future signal-caller.

Williams had a down year last season due to his move to right tackle. Typically, he plays on the left side. This is why they aren't paying him top dollar, but he never quit on his team and played hard whenever he was out there.

Again, this deal would be enticing to him due to the fact that nearly all of the contract is guaranteed. This isn't the most attractive landing spot, so guarantees are a must to attract this type of talent.

His cap hit for the 2024 season is 9,125,000, and it is fully guaranteed. After this deal, the Patriots would have $33 million in remaining cap space. A simple move at this point would be releasing Marco Wilson, saving $3.4 million on the cap, bringing it back up to $37 million.

Jordyn Brooks LB 2 Year $16 Million (Fully Guaranteed)

The Patriots' defense desperately needs one of those do-it-all linebackers who can play sideline to sideline, rack up over 100 tackles, and defend these Tight End and Running Back routes. Mayo understands the need for this type of player because he was this type of player when he played.

Brooks is coming off a down year even though he had over 100 tackles, which is why New England can get him at a value. Don't confuse values by thinking of them as cheap. Brooks is a good player and exactly the type of addition this team needs to make.

I don't think teams are ready to spend 50 million dollars over four years on Brooks, so giving him this two-year deal with it fully guaranteed gives him a chance for a major payday when he hits 28. I would add a team option in year three for $15 million (over the cap didn't give me an option for this), so if he gets back to 160 plus tackles, they can retain him at a fair price for both sides. His cap hit for 2024 would be $6,125,000, leaving New England with $31 Million left to spend.

Derek Barnett 2 Year $12 Million (8 Million Guaranteed)

Matt Judon is 31 and coming off a season-ending injury, so having some insurance for him over the next season is essential. Barnett has shown he can be an impact player, but similar to Uche, he isn't the type to break the bank in this market. If everything goes perfectly, he is the third or fourth thought to protection schemes with Judon, Barmore, Uche, Barnett, Wise, and White. A unit like this can cause chaos.

This feels like more an insurance signing than a need, but the team had the room to sign another impact player. His cap hit in 2024 would be $4,210,000, fully guaranteed. This brings the Patriots to $27 million in cap space. This is another player that I think Mayo can sell on his vision for the defensive side of the ball. The front seven would be dominant.

L'Jarius Sneed Or Jaylon Johnson CB 5 Year 81 Million (50 Guaranteed)

This is the least likely signing but possibly the most impactful if they did make it. Jonathon Jones is an excellent slot corner, and Christian Gonzalez is the team's number-one corner. With Gonzo Sneed or Johnson with the two Jones' Dugger and Philips, this is easily a top-five secondary, which makes this defensive unit capable of carrying the team to a playoff win.

This deal would be a fair price for players and the team; with how it is structured, they would get that 50 million over the first four years with a chance to renegotiate during that fifth year. The cap hit for this deal in 2024 would be $13,900,000, leaving the Patriots with 13 million in cap space for an ancillary move or to sign their draft class.

End Of Rant

This might seem like a lot of moves, but this team has the money to make them, and New England needs juice. This type of free agency haul brings that juice. However, this can't be all they do to build a long-lasting competitive team. The Patriots also must hit on the draft while bringing these crucial players back and attracting some impactful free agents.

This iteration of the Patriots would bring back Ownenu, Dugger, Henry, and Uche while welcoming in Calvin Ridley, Jonah Williams, Jordyn Brooks, Derek Barnett, and the long-shot splash of either L'Jarius Sneed or Jaylon Johnson. This is a team that I can get behind, believe in every Sunday to compete, and be in the mix come playoff time, regardless of who the Quarterback is.

Speaking about that, I will be doing an accompanying mock draft to this article, which will bring this 2024 Patriots roster prediction to a close, thus fixing New England for the current season and seasons to come.

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