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Has The Patriots' Free Agency Really Been As Bad As It Has Looked?

Foxborough, MA - Another year, another free agency that feels like it's falling just short of fitting the bill. The Patriots made a lot of moves, but none that broke the bank, and none with a lot of flair, leaving a lot of Patriots Nation wanting more. However, we break it down piece by piece, where does the last couple of weeks' worth of moves leave the Patriots heading into winding down free agency and the draft?

Aggressive Moves On The Retention Front

For all of the big names that the Patriots failed to make an impression on outside of the organization, they made a lot of moves when it came to their existing guys. On the offensive side, their notable moves include: parting ways with Mac Jones, retaining Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jalen Reagor within their weapons, signing Mike Onwenu to a massive extension, and releasing Devante Parker.

There's honestly not a bad move in here. Mac still has potential, but it's become clear that the fit just isn't there in Foxborough right now, and after the season he had, getting any compensation for him should be seen as a win. On Mac's end, he's coming home and entering a situation where he could honestly steal a starting job with a great camp. Bourne, when given consistent play time, has easily been one of the Patriots' best, most versatile, and most consistent receivers.

Henry's stats have been up and down, but the Patriots have also not used tight ends in their scheme properly. When used well, he's been very reliable and is a great locker-room presence. Reagor didn't do much, but he has potential and his contract figure doesn't move the needle much for the Patriots' cap space. After a very disappointing first two seasons, both in terms of health and production, Parker's release was necessary.

Onwenu's retention is arguably the biggest win of the whole FA cycle for the Patriots. They retain a strong tackle who can also play at guard at an annual figure that, while hefty, matches his potential and is less than the tag would have cost. Most importantly, they addressed a major position of need, especially with potentially a rookie QB coming into the fray.

On the defensive side, they advanced big time in their negotiations with Kyle Dugger by giving him the transition tag, putting them on the path to retaining a very strong player without giving him a franchise tag fee which would have been overly hefty. They lost Mack Wilson to Arizona, a tough loss, but one that cleared room for them to make other necessary moves at LB. Furthermore, they lost Jalen Mills to the Giants, another tough loss, but perhaps a necessary one.

Other major moves included the retention of a very solid player in Anfernee Jennings, a dynamic and hungry pass rusher in Uche to a team AND player-friendly one-year deal. Both of these shore up the front seven. As a bonus, the new regime's belief in Jennings, Uche, and Dugger retroactively make their 2020 draft look a LOT better - in addition to Dugger, Uche, and Jennings, the Onwenu pick in the sixth round was a huge one, which if not for another Michigan man, would contend for the best sixth-round pick the Pats have ever had.

Perhaps the only perplexing move here was the release of Adrian Phillips, a versatile safety and a consistent and strong player. With their safety depth and other needs, however, the move was understandable, especially with Marte Mapu's strong finish as a rookie. On the other end of things, perhaps the most underrated re-signing was Alex Austin who played surprisingly well when called upon, ensuring depth in a somewhat slim albeit strong CB group.

Smaller But Decent Additions

The Patriots actually made a lot of moves as far as external additions were concerned, even if not many of them got national attention. Let's start by listing them: RB Antonio Gibson, QB Jacoby Brissett, LB Sione Takitaki, WR KJ Osborn, T Chukwuma Okorafor, TE Austin Hooper, DT Armon Watts, and G Nick Leverett.

Gibson had some inconsistency in the last couple of seasons, but he's a shifty option who is very solid with catching the ball and can get the Patriots a much more consistent and available option than Montgomery in the James White-type role, and can back up Rhamondre nicely. Brissett provides depth, as well as competition and mentorship at the QB position. Whether as a bridge QB or a backup, Brissett has tools, IQ, and consistency conducive to doing a great job in New England.

While not the flash signing anyone wanted, Osborn is an underrated get for the Pats. He's been consistently productive in his three years as a Viking, even through QB tumult. Osborn is versatile, capable of going off, and can get in the end zone. Doubts exist, however, as to whether he can succeed as a focal point, having played alongside Justin Jefferson all three years.

Hooper is an upgrade on Gesicki, and while his productivity has dropped off in a beleaguered Raiders offense, his time in Atlanta, where he had back-to-back Pro Bowls, shows what he can be capable of. Okorafor and Leverette are medium-low-end starters, providing important depth, especially with the uncertainty of Cole Strange and the lack of competent tackle depth.

Watts and Takitaki are solid players who address positions of medium need. With Mack Wilson gone and Marte Mapu seeming to gravitate towards safety, linebacker depth is important, and Sione Takitaki is coming off arguably his best season, one in which he started to develop in pass coverage and pass rush in addition to his established skills against the run. Watts didn't have an extremely productive season in Pittsburgh, but is a solid, rounded DT that can help interior depth for a cheap contract after Lawrence Guy's release.

What Could/Should Have Been

While none of the above moves are inherently bad, many of them lack impact relative to what the Patriots need at important positions. Not only did the Patriots fail to nab Calvin Ridley after a surprising swoop in from Tennesee (just like last year with Hopkins), they also never really entered the market for players like Curtis Samuel, Hollywood Brown, and Darnell Mooney, who could have been good fits for the team for fair prices. While Osborn, especially for just 4 million, is a good signing, he's not quite a number-one option, which the Patriots desperately need.

Similarly, while Okorafor is a solid signing, the Patriots failed to make big runs at more notable tackle options, which was hard to understand given their cap situation. After seeing Tyron Smith and Jonah Williams go elsewhere, left tackle all of a sudden joins QB at the top of the Patriots' biggest draft needs.

Overall Assessment

The Patriots have left themselves some major assignments in the draft - specifically at QB, LT, and CB. But, their 3rd pick puts them in a good position to do so, and the deep QB class gives them some options with trading down, especially if they like options like Penix and Nix as much as more highly touted Daniels and Maye.

They covered their bases wonderfully in terms of retention, added some solid players, but failed to acquire any huge pieces - at least so far. The overall well-roundedness of their class with relatively light spending is worth commending, however. I'd give this somewhere in the B-/B range. A great draft, however, can change the outlook of the 2024 Patriots drastically.

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