The 2022 Patriots are going to look a lot different than the 2021 team.
Part of this is roster turnover and a number of free agents departing the organization in one way or another. The Patriots have 16 unrestricted free agents and a few more restricted free agents.
Decisions on players ultimately will not be made until March when free agency begins, unless a player is hit with the franchise tag, but it is never too early to look into the future and what might happen.
Here are some early thoughts on the Patriots’ free agents to-be.
Devin McCourty- The long-time Patriots safety will be 35 years old next season and has contemplated retirement in the past, so that will be in play over the next few months. And even if he does continue playing, he’s not a lock to return as he looked slower than in the past this season.
Dont’a Hightower- Like McCourty, Hightower is aging and will be 32 years old next season. He did not have a very good game against the Bills in the Wild Card round and seems like he’d be a candidate to retire as opposed to playing with another team.
Trent Brown- There are some questions with what the Patriots’ offensive line will look like next season, especially with Mike Onwenu. The Patriots are clearly a good fit for Brown and if he takes a below market deal he seems like a good possibility to return. If he wants to cash in on another big contract, it won’t be in New England.
J.C. Jackson- This will be one of the biggest questions of the entire offseason for the Patriots. Do they want to pay Jackson and sign him to a long-term deal? The franchise tag is also a possibility, but that would cost a lot of money, as well. Jackson is coming off a subpar performance against Stefon Diggs and the Bills. The Patriots also do not have anyone in line to take on the role of No. 1 cornerback.
Matthew Slater- The way the 36-year-old spoke after Saturday’s loss, it seems like a good bet the special-teamer will be calling it a career — and what a terrific career it was.
Ja’Whaun Bentley- Bentley is an interesting one as he seems like a player Bill Belichick loves and could take a low-money deal to remain a Patriot and help with the new linebackers that likely will be added this offseason.
Jamie Collins- Collins did not make much of an impact in his third stint with the team. It doesn’t seem likely the 32-year-old will be back, although never say never given his history with Belichick.
Ted Karras- The veteran had a solid season for the Patriots after signing a one-year deal last offseason. If Karras gets some multi-year offers elsewhere, he likely will not return. The Patriots could do the same, but he would get more money from another team.
James White- It was a tough year for White, who suffered a season-ending hip injury in late September. The veteran leader seems like a very good bet to be back in 2022, as long as he wants to keep playing.
Brandon King- King has been one of the Patriots’ core special teamers for a few years now. There’s always a question of how many is too many to have, but with Slater potentially retiring that could make the case for King staying stronger.
Brandon Bolden- Because of White’s season-ending injury, the soon-to-be 32-year-old had a bigger role than many expected and had the best year of his career. It feels like Bolden really enjoys playing for Belichick and the Patriots, so it would be tough to envision him signing with another team.
Brian Hoyer- This feels like if he plays another year (turns 37 next October), it would only be with the Patriots as this is where his family has settled down. If the Patriots like Jarrett Stidham enough they may not need Hoyer, but he’s a valuable player to have around to help with the development of Mac Jones.
Carl Davis- Davis was a healthy inactive against the Bills on Wild Card Weekend, which could be an indication the team is ready to move on.
Harvey Langi- Langi spent the second half of the season on injured reserve. He could be a player the team looks to bring back, but not in a prominent role.
Nick Folk- The 37-year-old was one of the most consistent players on the team this past season, and he said last week he wants to continue playing. Belichick seems to really like him, so it’s a good bet Folk is back for another season.
Troy Fumagalli- The tight end was placed on injured reserve over the summer, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a role for him with Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in front of him.
Jakobi Meyers (restricted)- Meyers is a lock to return and don’t be surprised if the Patriots look to sign him to a long-term deal. He seems like a player the team should want part of its future, beyond just 2022.
Gunner Olszewski (restricted)- It feels like there’s a good chance Olszewski is back for another year, but he wouldn’t be a lock to make the roster during training camp, especially if some new receivers are brought in.
Jakob Johnson (restricted)- The fullback feels pretty similar to Olszewski. Could the team find a better one? Probably. But, Johnson has been solid enough to deserve a low-round tender.
Terez Hall (exclusive rights free agent)- Hall spent all of this season on injured reserve. He played solid in 2020, so it feels like he will be back for 2022.