Although the Patriots haven’t made any blockbuster free agent signings, they have signed a handful of interesting new players. Nothing dramatic or eye-popping. Not what most were hoping for, to say the least. But the possibilities of what they can bring to this team are worth discussing.
It’s clear New England needs help on both sides of the ball, not necessarily one side over the other. With signings they’ve made thus far, Bill Belichick seems keen on at least attempting to do just that even before the draft.
Jabrill Peppers – S
A young, versatile defensive player with a connection to a Patriots coach? Seems like the perfect fit for New England. As a former first-round draft pick and only 26 years old, Jabrill Peppers adds useful depth to an aging defense. The Patriots signed Peppers to a one-year deal, likely due to him recovering from an ACL injury last season. Regardless, he is primed and ready to possibly be in for the long haul.
Although listed as a safety, Peppers has played all over the field throughout his time with the Browns and Giants. During his five years in the NFL, he’s played in a total of 61 games; grabbing four interceptions (with one returned for a touchdown) and four forced fumbles, five recovered. He has also had his fair share in punt and kick returns, which is surely something Belichick likes. With Gunner Olszewski signing with the Steelers, it is possible we will see Peppers used on special teams at some point, too.
His versatility will be useful for this defense, especially with a defensive back depth chart all but guaranteed. Falling behind Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger. Peppers joining them assures he will be used wherever needed week-to-week. He won’t necessarily elevate the defense, but he will give the team more cushion to the secondary.
Malcolm Butler – CB
One of the more shocking free agent signings for the Patriots would be that of Super Bowl 49 hero, Malcolm Butler. With questions still unanswered about his benching in Super Bowl 52, this signing was not anticipated whatsoever.
With the current lack of help at cornerback, particularly due to J.C. Jackson’s departure, signing a familiar face could be a big win for this team. Butler did “retire” last season, so he will be making his return after a full year off. However, his last season with the Tennessee Titans in 2020 was one of, if not the best seasons of his career. If the Patriots are able to get that type of production from him, they struck gold.
During his last season in Tennessee, Butler totaled four interceptions returned for 111 yards. He also had 14 passes defended and 100 total tackles. Just that season alone was far better than his last year in New England. There are some question marks as to how he will play after missing a full year.
There is still a possibility New England could draft a CB high in this year’s draft, especially given their needs in a deep defensive draft. But Butler’s signing adds significant help in a spot that needed it most. And at little risk with a team-friendly contract, it made too much sense to sign him.
Given the current depth at the position and the void left by Jackson going to the L.A. Chargers, there’s quite a gap for Butler to fill. Due to his previous experience with the team, however, he will likely take over the lockdown CB spot fairly quickly. And will naturally take on a similar role that he previously held with the team.
Ty Montgomery – WR/RB
Another Swiss army knife type of player has signed with the Patriots, a WR/RB combo in Ty Montgomery. Similar to what Cordarrelle Patterson was with the Patriots in 2018, the potential upside to this signing is endless. If the Patriots can get that Patterson-like production from Montgomery or even better, this offense could be much stronger than before. He could be considered one of the more risky free agent signings, but with very little guaranteed money, it won’t hurt the team.
Montgomery adds depth to an already talented RB room, with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White. But another adaptable player known for succeeding in multiple roles is a risk worth taking. With White returning from a season-ending injury this season, Montgomery could become a vital role in this offense. The production from White was missed throughout the year in 2021, so the addition of Montgomery could be more valuable than originally thought.
He also brings in kick return experience, which the team will be looking for after losing Brandon Bolden and Olszewski in free agency.
Terrance Mitchell – CB
After the loss of J.C. Jackson in free agency, the Patriots were quick to add some cornerback help with the signing of Terrance Mitchell. This clearly isn’t a guy that can make up for the loss of Jackson. But as an experienced veteran who’s spent most of his career as an outside corner, he can provide some insurance for the defense.
At only 29 years old, New England is Mitchell’s sixth team during his career. Signing a two-year deal with the Texans in 2021, he became a cap casualty early in the offseason. His one-year, $3 million deal is another example of a low cost and risk, potentially high reward for the team, as it is known Belichick does often.
Mitchell is a starting-caliber player, as he has been for his previous two teams. He will likely need to compete for a spot on the team, when the time comes though. Looking at the CB signed as of this writing, he could pair well alongside Jalen Mills or Malcolm Butler. But he could also be just another guy to use during camp.
Mitchell’s stats are a tad underwhelming. Fortunately, Belichick is known to get the best out of players others may overlook. With that said, the CB room is still in need of upgrading. Whether that comes from another signing or the draft is yet to be seen.
DeVante Parker – WR
The wide receiver position has been one of the hottest topics over the years in New England, and that only intensified during the course of last season. With a rookie quarterback at the helm, many feel the Patriots’ offense needs to drastically improve to help Mac Jones be successful.
There’s no denying the clear need for improvement. And because there hasn’t been a top primary target established, it seemed fair to assume the Patriots would be aggressive in free agency. That inevitably did not happen. However, they did finally make a move last week in a trade with Miami for DeVante Parker.
The Dolphins recently made a huge move in trading for former Kansas City Chiefs player Tyreek Hill. This then allowed them to move on from Parker for only a 3rd round pick. In his 93 games played with Miami since 2015, Parker averaged 14 yards per reception, totaling 4,727 yards and 24 touchdowns. His best season came in 2019, ending the season with 72 catches for 1,202 yards and 9 touchdowns. His most intriguing aspect is his yards-after-the-catch (YAC) abilities, (269 yards in 2019) which has been a sore spot on the Patriots for some time.
With the inconsistency of Nelson Agholor and the soon-to-be likely trade of N’Keal Harry, Parker adds a much-needed big-bodied, deep-threat receiver to the roster. He’s not a typical WR1, and probably won’t be on this team either. But his addition will help take pressure off of Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, the top receivers for the team in 2021.
Mack Wilson – LB
Early on in free agency, the Patriots acted quickly. Chase Winovich was traded to the Cleveland Browns for another young linebacker in Mack Wilson. In typical Belichick fashion, Wilson is another well-versed player. On top of his usual defensive role, he was used on special teams as part of kick returns as well.
During his 43 games with the Browns, Wilson saw the most playing time in his rookie season, playing in 88% of defensive snaps. Over the next two years, his snap counts were cut drastically, making his stats a bit difficult to truly evaluate and/or compare. But it is worth noting that he was still able to have solid production when he was on the field.
Wilson’s addition makes for a young linebacker group for the Patriots. He will make up for some of what Winovich was lacking during his time on the team. Wilson has better situational awareness and is better against the run. His flexibility will allow him to line up wherever he is needed, a skillset making him more valued on the roster.
Free Agency Continues and the Draft Nears
The free agent chaos that was the 2020 offseason brought on high hopes for a repeat of signings this year. And although the Patriots could probably have used that this year, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Despite the disappointment amongst many in Patriots Nation, not all hope should be lost with those who were signed. None of those signed will dramatically alter the success of the team, and the flashiest names may have gone elsewhere. But it is known the Patriots are able to find diamonds in the rough. And if these free agent signings can’t be made exciting for you regardless, there are only a few weeks until the draft.
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