The New England Patriots are in the middle of a pivotal NFL offseason. Bill Belichick has seen his team miss the playoffs in two of the last three seasons, and the division is only getting better around them. They need to not only add talent, but upper-echelon talent to reinsert themselves back into the postseason conversation. To this point, New England has yet to make what people would dub a home run swing, but there have been some additions that can heighten its ceiling, particularly on offense.
With the initial wave of free agency now washed up to shore, we're going to dive into each move the team has made thus far and provide our grades.New acquisitions
While their guaranteed dollars differ, the macro-view of JuJu Smith-Schuster's contract with New England and the one Jakobi Meyers inked with the Las Vegas Raiders are similar, which begs the question of why the Patriots didn't decide to retain the known commodity who has a strong rapport with Mac Jones. The reasoning centers around Smith-Schuster's heightened ceiling and better ability to gain yards after the catch. While Smith-Schuster does possess a higher ceiling, the floor is also lower. The 26-year-old is a big personality and that sometimes doesn't mesh with Bill Belichick's club, so there is some risk here, but the Patriots see it as a worthwhile one.
You may not know this, but this is technically Anderson's second stint with the Patriots as the team initially signed him as an undrafted free agent back in 2019. He was waived not too long after signing, but now makes his return to Foxborough. During this tenure, Anderson shouldn't be looked at as anything more than a depth piece as a swing tackle.
The Patriots drastically need improvement at the tackle positions. While Reiff isn't a bona fide set-and-forget starter, he is a versatile option who can play both right and left tackle. He's probably best suited to be a strong swing tackle, but there's a chance he could emerge as a starting option for New England. If he was arriving in Foxborough as a depth piece, this gets a higher grade, but it feels like they could have done better if he is ultimately their starter at one of the tackle spots.
Like the player, but don't exactly understand where he fits in. With Damien Harris gone, the thought process was that Rhamondre Stevenson turns into the lead back, while second-year players like Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr. -- who both flashed at times last year -- ascend into bigger roles. Robinson could merely be insurance if either one of those players takes a step back in 2023, but this does feel like they are doubling down at a position of strength.
Similar to Smith-Schuster, Gesicki is another big personality, so there may be some questions when it comes to how he'll mesh into Bill Belichick's system. That said, this may be their best outside signing of the offseason thus far. Gesicki should be a vast improvement from what the team was getting from Jonnu Smith, who they have traded to the Falcons, and could even unseat Hunter Henry at the TE1 in New England. His down year with the Dolphins doesn't concern me much as he wasn't a great fit in Mike McDaniel's offense. Bill O'Brien, who recruited him to Penn State, should get the most out of Gesicki and help New England's red zone woes of a year ago.
Board should be looked at as a special teams signing more than anything he'll do as a linebacker on defense. Bill Belichick puts tremendous value on special teams and puts Board in elite territory when it comes to his prowess on that side of the ball. Earlier this season leading up to New England's matchup with Detroit, Belichick said Board is "the best special teams player we'll play against all year." So it shouldn't be a surprise to see the head coach target him in free agency.Re-signed players
New England initially released Mills earlier this offseason, but have struck a reunion, bringing him back on a one-year contract worth up to $6.1 million. While Mills was signed on as a corner last offseason, this return may see him playing at safety to help replace the recently retired Devin McCourty. The 28-year-old is familiar with the system and should be able to make that transition rather easily.
Joe Cardona has been a solid player in New England and a great ambassador for the team. That said, this team should not be breaking the bank and making someone the highest-paid long snapper in the NFL.
Solid move for New England to retain its main nose tackle, but this is hardly a splash. Davis has been with the team since midway through the 2020 season and has been serviceable. He played in 21% of the defensive snaps last season and totaled 11 tackles and a sack. He keeps some stability along the defensive line.
Another special teams transaction for Belichick. Davis is coming off a 2022 season where he missed most of the year due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 6. At the time, Belichick noted Davis' ability to play on multiple special teams units, highlighting his importance to the team. With this re-signing, New England gets its versatile special teams player back in the fold, but this move doesn't do much of anything for the safety position.
Ekuale gives the Patriots some depth when it comes to rushing the passer, and the 29-year-old was able to provide some relief when Christian Barmore missed time due to injury. He had a career-high 14 tackles and three quarterback hits last season to go along with two sacks. He isn't going to be someone that wrecks a game for you, but he can be a nice depth piece.
Ferentz coming back is a depth move for New England along the interior of the offensive line. He was the club's primary backup on the inside, seeing playing time at center and both guard positions. He's someone who knows the system and has shown he can come in and play in a pinch, which is valuable.
Arguably New England's top free agent was Jonathan Jones, and the Patriots were able to retain him at a relatively low cost considering his impact. Jones has shown versatility over his tenure playing as a slot corner for most of his career before moving to the outside primarily last year. Wherever he ends up playing in 2023, Jones is a valuable piece to this secondary and could even develop into one of the team's leaders on that side of the ball.
There's a chance the Patriots allow McDermott to compete for a starting tackle job in camp. He started the final six games of the regular season in 2022 at right tackle. Over that stretch he didn't allow a sack, but he did play at a strong level and even received praise from Bill Belichick during that run. If New England keeps Trent Brown at left tackle and leaves the right side open for competition, McDermott may have the inside track so long as they don't bring any more high-profile players aboard either via trade or the NFL Draft. At worst, he's a solid backup option.
McMillan's Patriots career hit a snag when he suffered a torn ACL that erased his 2021 campaign. He returned in 2022 and was able to play in a backup role while totaling 32 tackles, a sack and two pressures. He should again be looked at as a complementary depth piece to this defense, while also helping out on special teams.