5 Trades and Free Agent Signings for the Patriots to be Competitive in 2021
So, the dust has settled on the 2020 season in Patriots Nation and the worst-case scenario eventually played out; New England finished with a losing record while watching Brady hoist his 7th Lombardi and earn his 5th Super Bowl MVP. Amidst the panic that is currently gripping New England, I’m here to help calm you all down and share some optimism going into the 2021 offseason! If there is one silver-lining out of watching “Tommy” win it all in his first year post-Belichick, it’s the fact that it has shifted the spotlight completely onto Bill as we all collectively ask “Well, whatcha gonna do about it”.
This past season was more consumed with how Brady would fare without the Hoodie in his corner rather than how Bill could cope without having the GOAT at QB. Now that the pressure has been shifted to Belichick, he can’t possibly sit idly on his boat off of Nantucket knowing full well that there is now legitimacy to the argument of “Did Brady make Bill?”.
Now, the Patriots aren’t going to go out and throw money around like a kid who was just handed their parent’s credit card and told “IT’S ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES”. That’s just not in their blood, or Bill’s at least. However, they’re also not going to sit on $68M and the 15th pick and hope that “In Bill we Trust” still holds some weight, because guess what, it doesn’t.
How can the Patriots reclaim the top spot in the AFC East?
Who can they add that can help catapult them back to the top of the AFC, a place where they took a 20-year mortgage back at the turn of the century?
Let’s take a look at 5 names that could bring respectability back to an offense that used to strike fears in NFL circles:
1. David Andrews (Center)
Okay, so this isn’t a new player coming in to breathe life into a unit that is on life support and truth be told, it’s a position that probably hasn’t even crossed many people’s mind, but a vital one nonetheless. The Patriots are no longer going to be this offensive juggernaut that will just decimate defenses with their aerial attack like they did in the mid-2010’s. Instead, this next version of the team will be built in the eye of Belichick, which will be a strong defense, strong running game, and a complimentary passing offense that just doesn’t “eff it up”. So, with that said, the Patriots are clearly more effective in the running game with Andrews than they are without.
In 2019, when Andrews was out for the year with blood clots in his lungs, well, their running offense was about as effective as their passing offense was this past season. They ranked 18th in yards and 25th in yards per carry, but when Andrews came back, they shot up the boards to 4th in rushing (2,346 yards) and 8th in yards per carry (4.7). Obviously, some of that can be attributed to Newton, but even without his numbers in the mix, the Patriots ran for 50 more yards on nearly 100 less carries than 2019.
Andrews’ importance is magnified with the Patriots most likely losing out on star offensive guard Joe Thuney to free agency (I don’t see New England slapping and keeping him on the franchise tag). He shouldn’t come at a steep price either, he’s going to be 29 before the season and has a major medical question-mark with his blood clots.
Deal: 3 years-$24M ($8M guaranteed)
2. Hunter Henry (Tight End)Embed from Getty Images
This is a necessity at this point, the Patriots have gotten zero production from their tight end group the last two seasons. They’ve tallied 55 catches for 673 yards and 3 TDs, or a more appropriate breakdown, they’ve been detrimental to the success of the offense. Belicheck has had an affinity with Henry dating back to his days at Arkansas and has gushed on record about his ability in both the rushing and passing game. It’s almost a no-brainer to me, the Patriots have a major need at the position and Henry would be a major upgrade over the crap they’ve rolled out the past couple of seasons.
If you’re looking to court a QB through free agency or in a trade, you’re going to need to be able to put skill players on the field that take some of the pressure off him and make the defense respect your ability to pass the football. He has had some injuries that have knocked him out 26 games total in his career, including the entire 2018 season. Since that point though, he’s played 26 of 32 possible games. And though his numbers haven’t been off the charts (he’s averaged about 600 yards and 4 TDs), if he stays healthy moving forward his numbers are more impressive when prorated over a full season (70 catches 826 yards 8 TDs). New England needs to spend somewhere, and this is a good place to start.
Deal: 5 years-$45M ($20M guaranteed)
3. Marvin Jones (Wide Receiver)
I’ve loved Marvin Jones since back to his early days with Cincinnati when they would line him up all over the field, he isn’t the sexiest name out there, but he’s been a consistent contributor regardless of where he’s ended up. He’s another player that Belichick has long had an affinity for and tried desperately to bring in when he first hit free agency back in 2016. He’s going to be 31 going into the season, so a long-term contract is probably off the table for him and he’s going to want to be on a competitive team after playing in Detroit for the last 5 seasons.
He would be the perfect option to slide into the 2nd or 3rd role in the passing game and one that can wreak some havoc from the slot and the outside. New England cannot rely on Edelman being anything more than a complimentary player at this point, too much tread on those tires, and Myers might just be a product of “well someone needs to catch passes”. Don’t even get me started on N’Keal Harry either, for those holding onto that dream, well there’s no helping you.
At the peak of his value, he was an $8M a year player, couple that with the fact that the cap is coming down by a projected $25M, AND a third of the league is already over the cap. The Patriots might be Marvin Jones’ best chance to join a team that can be competitive as well as feature him in the offense. This screams Bargain Bill.
Deal: 2 years-$13M ($5M guaranteed)
4. Odell Beckham Jr (Wide Receiver)
This seems like a huge gamble for the Patriots, he’s 29, coming off a torn ACL, and makes $45M over the next three years, but in reality, it really isn’t that bad of a roll of the dice.
First off, he has no guaranteed money left on his contract, so if he proves to be the guy he has been the last couple of seasons, you can cut him without much of a second thought. Secondly, he’s not going to cost much to get him, I know Browns’ fans would LOVE to recoup that 1st rounder they parted with to get him, but the fact of the matter is that they’ll be lucky to get a mid-round pick. Again, he’s an older veteran who is coming off a major injury, and the offense was atrocious when he was out there. Cleveland also has some big contracts coming up in the next year or two that needs attention (Mayfield, Chubb, Hunt, & Ward), so saving $15M on the cap will help the long-term viability of that team.
So, what would a trade look like? Well, if I’m New England, I’m offering them a 3rd round compensatory (try to make something out of Brady walking) and former 1st rounder N’Keal Harry. The Browns get some instant cap relief, a mid-round draft pick, and a player who had enough upside to go in the 1st round. The Patriots potentially get the game-breaker they’ve been looking for the last couple of years (they were in on Stefon Diggs last offseason and OBJ the year before). Not to mention that Beckham Jr is one of the few players on this Earth that ACTUALLY wants to play for Belichick.
Cleveland Receives: 2021 3rd Round Compensatory Pick & WR N’Keal Harry
New England Receives: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
5. Jimmy Garoppolo (Quarterback)Embed from Getty Images
Now to the final piece of the puzzle, which ironically might need to be the first domino to fall if anything else can happen. Like OBJ, this is going to have be made through a trade, and back in 2017 when everyone (including myself) criticized New England for only netting a 2nd rounder for a franchise QB, this is where being a good business partner has it perks. I’m calling Shanahan and telling him he can choose one from the following:
- 2021 2nd round pick (46th overall)
- CB Stephon Gilmore
- OG Joe Thuney (he would be on the franchise tag)
Now, most would say “well no starting QB is going for less than a 1st in today’s world”, which is true, but Garoppolo’s situation is a bit more precarious for a multitude of reasons:
- Both the team and Garoppolo have rumored to be wanting a divorce.
- Garoppolo has missed 23 of a possible 53 games since being acquired in 2017.
- He has little guaranteed money left on his contract ($2.8M in 2021), so San Fran doesn’t take a big financial hit by moving on from him.
- San Francisco is project to only have $13M in cap space going into 2021, according to Overthecap.com.
All of these factors remove leverage from the 49ers and even though they don’t have a clear-cut successor to him right now. If you know anything about Shanahan, he doesn’t value the quarterback position as highly as others because his scheme is based on the ability to run the football and work play-action bootleg off of it.
Why would New England want him? I think 2020 answers that questions unequivocally, but there’s more to it than just that. He is cost controlled at minimal liability for the next 2 seasons and he has proven to be successful in the Patriots scheme. Plus, you’re not parting with much to get him, even if he proves to be a failure, Thuney isn’t coming back in 2021, Gilmore already wants out, and I’ll end on the recent 2nd round picks for Belichick:
2020 – Josh Uche
2019 – Joejuan Williams
2018 – Duke Dawson
2016 – Cyrus Jones
2015 – Jordan Richards