The Patriots have a number of free agents-to-be come next week, and a great deal of them deserve to return.
While some don’t have much of a chance to come back because of what their price will be on the open market, that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t check in and do what they can. Unlike years past, there doesn’t appear to be many true locks of their own free agents to return.
Free agency will officially begin March 13, but as a preview, here are the top 10 Patriots free agents to-be who the team should prioritize bringing back. It is worth noting the Patriots can re-sign these players at any point, and do not need to wait until next Wednesday.
1. DE Trey Flowers- This is a no-brainer as the 26-year-old will be the best defensive end to hit the open market and will get a ton of interest across the league. Flowers plays the Patriots system extremely well and has turned into one of the most dependable players on the entire defense. The Patriots do not have a young and upcoming defensive end behind him, which makes it even more imperative the team does what it can to bring him back. It is going to cost them because of not only how good he is, but also his interest across the league and few number of quality defensive ends available.
2. K Stephen Gostkowski- While the long-time kicker gets criticized for missing kicks in big games, overall he’s one of the top-five best kickers in the league. Patriots fans have been spoiled over the years and haven’t had to deal with worrying about a kicker each and every week like some teams have to across the league. The drop-off between Gostkowski and whatever kicker bought in to potentially replace him makes it worth the Patriots going out of their way to ensure he comes back.
3. OL Trent Brown- It doesn’t sound likely to happen given how much money he will get on the open market, but the Patriots should certainly check in. He had a solid season in his first year in New England, but some of that could be because he knew he was in a contract year. There are some who worry his level of play could go down once he gets a new contract. With that being said, if he departs it would be second-year linemen Isaiah Wynn taking over. If the price is significantly less than what is being perceived, then the team should try and bring him back, but that seems unlikely to be the case.
4. OL LaAdrian Waddle- If Brown does indeed leave, the Patriots need to have someone with experience behind Wynn, which is where Waddle comes into play. Waddle has been one of the more underrated players on the team in recent years, as he’s done a tremendous job when he’s been forced into action due to injuries. This is why he’s sneaky important to bring back, just to be a veteran insurance policy who knows the system behind Wynn.
5. CB Jonathan Jones- It’s worth noting Jones is the only restricted free agent on this list, but the Patriots need to do what it takes to make sure he’s back in 2019. Jones’ importance was on full display the last two games of the season — the AFC championship and the Super Bowl. In the AFC title game, he helped shut down Tyreek Hill and then in the Super Bowl helped pitch in at safety when Patrick Chung was lost for the game early in the second half. His versatility, as well as ability to play special teams is big and make it worth the Patriots making sure he's back.
6. CB Jason McCourty- McCourty did well for himself in his first year in New England by winning a Super Bowl with his twin brother Devin. The leadership the two provided in the secondary cannot be stated enough, and really helped with rookies Keion Crossen and J.C. Jackson. McCourty may have to take less money to return, but the Patriots should at the very least put an offer out there.
7. WR Cordarrelle Patterson- This feels like a long-shot to happen given what he will likely get on the open market, but the Patriots should do their due diligence and see what he’s worth. Josh McDaniels got the best out of Patterson, perhaps the most of Patterson's six years in the league. He’s a valuable player to have given all the things he can do (receiver, running back, kick returner), but it feels like another team is about to overpay for his services.
8. WR Phillip Dorsett- Of the three Patriots free agent receivers, we give Dorsett the best chance to return. He clearly had chemistry with Tom Brady and when Julian Edelman is the only receiver currently slated to return, Brady needs someone else he’s comfortable throwing to. This is Dorsett’s first time as a free agent so he will likely explore his options and see what he’s worth. The Patriots will likely set a number they feel is right and if his value is above that they will move on.
9. P Ryan Allen- Allen is another sneaky underrated player, who had his best games down the stretch, including in the Super Bowl. Another aspect to consider is his chemistry with Joe Cardona and Gostkowski in the kicking game. Although he likely could be replaced, how close he is with those two should not be discounted.
10. LB Albert McClellan- Picked up in the middle of the season, McClellan made a huge impact on special teams and his arrival seemed to shift the entire unit that struggled early in the year. Being 32 years old, he shouldn’t demand a huge contract, so it’s likely the Patriots should be able to get him back. Not many teams value special teams as much as the Patriots, which make it an appealing spot for the veteran special teamer.
Just missing cut: Chris Hogan, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, John Simon- Hogan just didn’t have his usual chemistry with Brady this past year, while the two defensive tackles seem to be able to be replaced via the strong draft class. With Simon, the team likely wants him back, he just isn’t of the same importance as the players listed above.