Re-signing in-house free agents wasn’t what the majority of Patriots Nation wanted out of this off-season. The general consensus seemed to be hoping for new players on expensive and long-term contracts. However, Bill Belichick does as Bill Belichick pleases.
It’s All About the Veterans
The key to success isn’t always about making drastic changes. Those who pay attention to New England know this all too well. Although it isn’t always met with the most approval from fans. Maintaining consistently productive veterans should remain important. The Patriots have been fortunate with many players in that regard.
Devin McCourty – FS
The Patriots’ secondary took a massive hit when star cornerback J.C. Jackson signed with the Chargers in free agency. His expected yet disappointing departure created quite a gap for the defense to fill. As one of the more successful groups for New England in 2021, re-signing reliable and experienced players has been a point of emphasis this off-season.
With so many long-term players hitting free agency, re-signing Devin McCourty was a top priority. His pure athleticism and vision have been crucial to this defense for several years and will continue to be this upcoming season.
Even at the ripe old age of 34, McCourty’s production has not faltered. During the 2021 season, he was once again atop the list of best safeties in the league. Starting in all 18 games, he played over 94% of all defensive snaps and grabbed three interceptions on the year.
There is a quality of effortless leadership that McCourty brings that cannot be overstated. Not only does he encapsulate what it means to be a Patriot. But he also shares a wealth of knowledge and tone-setting attitude any coach would want for their team.
As New England looks to continue building a team post-Tom Brady, having a veteran capable of mentoring younger players is crucial for continued success.
Matthew Slater – S/T
Bill Belichick said it best this week when discussing Matthew Slater‘s importance to special teams, saying “He will go up there, in the kicking game, with (Tom) Brady on offense and (Lawrence) Taylor on defense.”
Re-signing key leaders continued at the start of free agency as Slater was one of the first few brought back to the team. The emphasis of success on special teams has always been treated with the utmost importance in the Belichick era.
Although that unit struggled in 2021, Slater still outperformed the rest. At the end of the year, he earned his tenth Pro Bowl selection and made the All-Pro team for the fifth time.
Slater has continued his distinguished role in New England, as well as keeping “the Patriot way” going. His contributions go beyond what is done just on the field. He’s definitely still at the top of his game.
But the positivity, attitude, and incomparable leadership he brings to all those around him cannot be easily reproduced or replaced, making him the true definition of valuable to any team.
James White – RB
After suffering a season-ending injury in week three last year, James White returns on a two-year deal with the Patriots. His absence was made apparent often throughout the season, especially with the mishaps by the RB at the start of the year.
The running back room is stacked with White’s return. But with his unique skillset and early chemistry with Mac Jones, there is a lot this offense can benefit from with him back in the lineup. With some question marks lingering regarding how White will play after recovering from injury, it’s clear Belichick believes he is good to go long before the season begins.
In the two and a half games he was able to play in, White caught 12 of 14 passes for 94 yards, becoming the top receiver on the team at that point. He also had ten carries for 38 yards and one touchdown in that time. With the team at full strength, his usage was predominately in the passing game which will likely continue in 2022.
With Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to carry the load as the traditional running backs, look for White to get back into his usual role. After losing Brandon Bolden to the Raiders last month, White’s presence has become that much more important. Bolden was a pivotal piece of the offensive success last season, and now that will be left for White to pick up from.
Ja’Whaun Bentley – ILB
One of the most notable positions in need of some upgrading would undoubtedly be the linebackers. With Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins remaining unsigned, the LB group has become one of the youngest units on the team.
Because of that, Ja’Whaun Bentley‘s re-signing holds more weight with the experience and knowledge of the system he inevitably brings.
Joining the likes of Cameron McGrone and Anfernee Jennings, Bentley will play a prominent role overall for the group. Although he is also young at only 25-years old, his four years on the team will certainly benefit in developing and mentoring those around him. And also bring much-needed continuity on defense.
In his 16 games played in the 2021 season, Bentley led the team with 109 tackles. He accumulated five tackles for a loss and five QB hits. He shined as a run defender throughout the year, which has been an obvious weak spot on the line.
If he can continue on the path he set last season, as well as bring the young guys around him with him, Bentley has the potential to truly bolster an already stout defense.
Brian Hoyer – QB
Finding a quality backup quarterback in the NFL is no easy task. Luckily for the Patriots, they’ve built their trust around Brian Hoyer. Returning for his seventh season in New England, Hoyer will continue to bring his knowledge and mentorship to the younger players, most importantly QB Mac Jones.
With Mac exceeding expectations in 2021, Hoyer didn’t see the field too much. But his biggest contributing factor to the team was that of a mentor to Jones. Because of his amassed experience in the league and with the organization, Hoyer was able to share it all with the rookie week-in and week-out.
Going into his sophomore season, Jones is set to remain the starter. Speaking highly of Hoyer consistently last year, he is sure to benefit from his return to the QB group.
Nick Folk – K
Since the departure of Stephen Gostkowski after the 2019 season, the Patriots have found it difficult to replace his unmatched reliability. There have been a few rookies to test the waters in New England. But none have met the standard set to remain on the team.
The Patriots were lucky to find exactly what they had been looking for when they signed Nick Folk after Gostkowski’s injury. Due to his age, it didn’t appear as though he would remain on the roster long-term. But because of the struggles in finding the best replacement, Folk continued playing for the team throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
In the 40 games played as a Patriot, Folk has become one of the most reliable kickers in the league. Not only has he had his highest percentage of field goals made in his career. But he’s also become the go-to guy for kicks of 50+ yards. Time and time again he has performed in crunch time and helped the Patriots win several games.
Belichick’s confidence in the veteran kicker was proven this off-season when he re-signed 37-year-old Folk to a two-year deal. As the Patriots continue to emphasize the importance of special teams, Folk’s reliability will be one aspect not to worry about.
James Ferentz – OL
The Patriots’ offensive line has certainly dealt with its fair share of trouble in recent years; whether it was injuries or playing out of position, the line has seen it all. Re-signing familiar faces was paramount in maintaining some sort of consistency and possible success in the future.
The returns of veteran players in free agency continued with the re-signings of James Ferentz and Trent Brown. The offensive line in particular has faced a lot of adversity during the past two seasons. But the return of a reliable backup in Ferentz and a versatile starter in Brown has proven to be beneficial all around.
With all the injuries this offensive line has dealt with recently, Ferentz’s signing becomes much more important. He adds quality and depth to a vulnerable unit for the Patriots.
By not re-signing Ted Karras in free agency, Ferentz’s experience at the position and the organization will serve as a good security blanket in 2022.
Trent Brown – T
After being traded from the Las Vegas Raiders to The Patriots, Trent Brown made his way back to New England with excitement. Jumping right back into his usual starting role was met with ease. But his return was cut short as he injured his calf in the first game of the year.
Pass protection struggled in his nine-game absence, greatly impacting Mac Jones’ success rate. However, Brown was, fortunately, able to recover in time to return in week ten.
When healthy, Brown is an automatic starter at right tackle. When he is on the field, he continues to remain a dominant fixture on the offensive line. As the team continues to get younger in each position, and a quarterback going into his sophomore season, re-signing a quality player at such an important position becomes that much more vital.
Re-Signing Can Be Just As Beneficial As New Signings
Sure, it would be nice to see some fresh new faces on the Patriots, especially some of the hot free agents that were available. But re-signing proven veterans can be proven just as paramount. Given the number of years these players have spent on the Patriots, their value goes beyond just their position, especially on a team trending younger.
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