Lots of household names are still available, but do any of them make sense to the Patriots?

Curran: Who should the Patriots consider from the current crop of free agents? originally appeared on NBC SportsBoston

The major player acquisition periods for the 2022 NFL season are over. We are by free agency. We went through the second wave of free agency. We have completed the draft.

Over the next few weeks, teams will be looking at their mix of players and draft, draft, draft. If there was a game on Sunday, what would their depth chart look like? Where are they light? Where could they add players who were passed over to come as projects or competition?

A perfect example of the Patriots playing shrewdly on the field was in 2020.

Curran: Current Patriots draft class getting a rough ride

In late June, the Patriots looked at their depth roster of quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Then they looked at the available quarterbacks and thought, “Hey, Cam Newton is still here. Former MVP. He gave us fits every time we faced him. What have we got to lose by seeing if he would come here and compete? His situation is very different now than when free agency started. Maybe he will come on a one-year contract.

And he did. A one-year, incentive-rich deal worth $14 million. He easily beat Stidham for the starting job and he most certainly had his moments at the start of the year.

Yes, he had his limits. And they appeared more and more over the year. But as a band-aid for a talent-strapped team, Newton’s presence has kept the Patriots afloat for much of that transitional year. He kept it light, took all the slingshots and arrows, played hard, sacrificed his body and saved the Patriots from having to go to Stidham or Hoyer.

He eventually earned $3.75 million starting 15 gamesthrowing eight touchdowns and 10 picks while running for another 12 touchdowns. All for less than $4M.

He was a Human Flex-Seal for a team that needed him in freshman AB (after Brady).

Another post-draft addition of note? Malcolm Butler. Transported for a trial in the spring of 2014, he immediately made an impression, the Patriots signed him and nine months later made the most dramatic play in Super Bowl history.

Will the Patriots find a diamond in the rough like Butler or a practical stopgap like Newton? It boils down to two things. First, where do the Patriots believe they are lightweight. Second, who is there?

Offensively, they have plenty of running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers. Depending on how they view 2020 third-round picks Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi — who have done very little since joining — the tight end could be a spot they would add. They need offensive line depth at tackle because their frontline starters — Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn — are often injured. They can look for experienced guard depth with first-round rookie Cole Strange just coming on board at right guard.

Defensively, they are well-stocked in safety and on the inside defensive line. Edge could be a consideration, although the hoped-for development of Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins may put them at ease. Linebacker is confusing because they have a fleet of players, but many of them are just injured (Raekwon McMillan), inexperienced (Anfernee Jennings), new to the team (Mack Wilson) or some combination of the three (Cam McGrone) that these players need reps to show what they are capable of. The situation around the corner is similar.

Many recognizable names remain available. Especially at wide receiver. But the Patriots’ current cap situation adds to the geometry. The Patriots have less than $1 million in cap space and have yet to sign their rookie class. Restructuring and eventual releases are needed for them to recover financially before they can think of adding.

Many recognizable names remain available. Especially at wide receiver. But the Patriots’ current cap situation adds to the geometry. The Patriots have less than $1 million in cap space and have yet to sign their rookie class. Restructuring and eventual releases are needed for them to recover financially before they can think of adding.

Jhe best way to breach the ceiling in one fell swoop would be to trade Nelson Aghlolor. It has a cap of $15 million. If the Patriots can process him, his $9 million salary is forfeited and the team will only take home $5 million in dead money. It may be hard to find a taker for him at that high price the Patriots put up in 2021 because they desperately needed wide releases. Releasing him means the Patriots will save about $5 million and still carry a $10 million cap. It’s less attractive. Of course, paying Agholor $9m and carrying a $15m cap if he wants to be a bit gambler may be the least appealing part of the equation.

Let’s assume the Patriots clear enough space to add players on incentive-laden deals. Here are some of the best players in the league who are staying single and possibly ready to mingle.

Edge/defensive line

Jadeveon Clowney, 29 Had a great year with Cleveland (nine sacks, 19 QB hits in 14 games) but it’s going to be expensive.

Akiem Hicks, 32 years oldWas with the Patriots in 2015 on board a trade for Michael Hoomanawanui. Very well done. Signed a big contract with the Bears. Seven years later, he could still play an inside role, but he’s struggled with injuries for the past three seasons.

Justin Houston, 33 years oldPure pass rusher who started 15 games on a low-budget contract with Baltimore.

Jerry Hughes, 34 years oldA longtime gamer with the Bills coming off a statistically modest season (two sacks, seven QB hits), Hughes has long been a pain in the ass for the Patriots and he can still bring considerable pressure.

Trey Flowers, 29A reunion with the former Patriot still seems logical. He couldn’t stay healthy for the Lions, but if he still had gas left and was ready to make a modest deal, Flowers would be a very unsurprising addition to the Patriots front.

Carl Nassib, 29 years oldA Las Vegas cap victim whose production went off the rails with the Raiders after signing a big deal in 2020, Nassib is a smart, once-productive player who plays on plenty of special teams and could be a rotational player.

wide receiver

Odell Beckham, 29 — VSReturning from the ACL he tore in the Super Bowl, Beckham was chased by the Patriots before going to the Rams. The wide room is full but Beckham has shown Los Angeles he can still be a major factor in an offense.

Jarvis Landry, 29 years oldTough and productive slot that had a low (for him) year with Cleveland, catching 52 balls for 570 yards and missing five games. I don’t know how much better he is at this point than Jakobi Meyers, but he’s a top competitor and five-time Pro Bowl player who caught more than 80 catches in each of his first six seasons.

offensive line

Duan Brown, 37A Pro Bowler in Seattle last year, he’s still a starting left tackle and he’s expensive, so he’s unlikely for the Patriots.

Eric Fisher, 31Played Indy last year and – like Brown – still a rookie-level player who would be an unlikely target.

Daryl Williams, 30Released by the Bills despite starting 17 games, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Williams is a versatile lineman who could be called upon to give Strange time to brew.

Riley Reiff, 33 –Pslept with the Bengals last year on a one-year deal starting at right tackle. Can also play left tackle. Probably too good and too expensive to be a depth/backup player.

linebacker

Alexander Johnson, 30 years oldA big linebacker at 6-2, 245, Johnson played for the Broncos last year on a $3.3 million deal. Could be a piece deep behind Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Anthony Barr, 30Once a staple of the Vikings defense, Barr was a victim of the cap in Minnesota. Injuries have hurt him, but when healthy he’s one of the most versatile and productive linebackers on the planet.

Cornerback

Janoris Jenkins, 33 years oldWiry corners the released Titans after signing a two-year, $15 million pact last offseason. The Patriots may have reached their quota for older corners with Malcolm Butler.

Joe Haden, 33 In decline, he would be a borderline starter at this stage after starting 11 games with the Steelers last year. A dressing player.

Robert Alford, 33A longtime starter with the Falcons, Alford spent 2021 with the Cardinals where he started five games. On the decline.

Jason McCourty, 35Injured after seven games in Miami last year, the former Patriot and Titan would give it a shot if the Patriots called. Age is a concern, but McCourtys is slowly aging, it seems.

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