FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After a dizzying stretch of negotiating during the NFL free-agency period, the New England Patriots’ roster has undergone a significant transformation. Even more change is expected.
For now, here’s the new-look position-by-position breakdown:
Quarterback: Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Jake Dolegala
The Patriots could still add another signal-caller, but as more salary-cap space has been devoted to other positions, the odds now favor it being a rookie or a lower-cost option.
Running back: Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor
All eyes are on “passing back” and three-time captain James White, who remains a free agent. The Patriots should be adding to this spot in either free agency or the draft.
Fullback: Jakob Johnson, Danny Vitale, Dalton Keene
With the Patriots adding two top tight ends in free agency, perhaps they will now view Keene, a 2020 third-round pick from Virginia Tech, more in the fullback/H-back realm as a versatile chess piece.
Tight end: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, Matt LaCosse
The Patriots’ grouping of two tight-ends is referred to as “Detroit,” which is a reference to coach Bill Belichick’s early years in the NFL as a Lions assistant, when the two-tight-end package was a big part of their attack with Charlie Sanders and David Hill. In 2021, “Detroit” comes to New England in a big way.
Wide receiver: Julian Edelman, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater, Marqise Lee, Devin Smith, Kristian Wilkerson, Isaiah Zuber
Agholor led the NFL in yards per target last season (11.1) and had six touchdowns on vertical routes, third in the NFL behind on Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill. His presence adds an explosive element this group was missing in 2020 when it ranked 22nd in yards per reception (12.3).
Offensive line: Isaiah Wynn (LT), Trent Brown (RT/LT), Shaq Mason (RG), Mike Onwenu (G/RT), Justin Herron (OT), Korey Cunningham (OT), Marcus Martin (C/G), Najee Toran (C), Yodny Cajuste (OT), Ross Reynolds (G)
Losing stalwart left guard Joe Thuney to the Chiefs and with center David Andrews set to hit free agency, this group could be without two foundational players. The most likely combination at this point is Wynn at left tackle, Onwenu at left guard, Mason at right guard and Brown at right tackle, with a big question at center.
Defensive line: Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise Jr., Henry Anderson, Beau Allen, Byron Cowart, Carl Davis, Rashod Berry, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray, Akeem Spence
Big changes up front with veteran two-gapper Lawrence Guy and interior penetrator Adam Butler still on the market. Godchaux and Anderson should help against the run, an area the front seven struggled with at times in 2020.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Terez Hall, Tashawn Bower, Cassh Maluia, Michael Pinckney, Brandon King
If Judon integrates into the Patriots’ system, he offers a sturdy edge presence and pass-rush threat — combined with Hightower — that could reshape the front seven into one of the toughest, meanest units in the NFL.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson (RFA), Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Dee Virgin, Michael Jackson, D’Angelo Ross, Justin Bethel
Gilmore’s $7 million salary still seems like something that will need to be addressed, as it’s hard to imagine he’s on board playing for that below-market number. With the Patriots liberally spending, perhaps they would also consider a bump for Gilmore.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Patrick Chung, Kyle Dugger, Jalen Mills
Mills is the only player in the NFL to play 50-plus snaps at all seven of these pre-snap locations last season: Left and right OLB; left and right slot CB; left and right wide CB and free safety. He’s the type of versatile chess piece that could fit well given the variety of packages the Patriots play.
Special teams: Roberto Aguayo (kicker), Justin Rohrwasser (kicker), Jake Bailey (punter), Joe Cardona (long-snapper)
Veteran kicker Nick Folk, who was one of the team’s MVPs last season, remains a free agent.