How Valuable Are the Patriots' Top To-Be Free Agents?
On March 18 at 4 p.m., barring they do not verbally agree to any deals during the tampering window, the New England Patriots will have 20 players that will become free agents. With that amount of players becoming free agents, along with a projected $28 million in available salary cap space for the 2020 season, New England will have to perform some wizardry this offseason if they want to play championship-calibur football next season while remaining under the salary cap.
One aspect that is already being looked at by the organization is how valuable their to-be free agents are compared to the rest of players that will hit the market. This will be a good gauge for what they offer their to-be free agents for contracts, and who they can pursue at that position if they believe they have a slim chance of retaining those players. This is also a good way for us to determine what the turnover may look like for the roster this offseason.
With that being said - PFF created a list for the top 100 best available free agents in 2020, which can help us determine who may be a Patriot come the 2020 season, and who will be sporting another jersey. Let's take a dive into their list to see where some of the Patriots' to-be free agents land on the list, and what that tells us about their destiny this offseason.
Note: because quarterbacks were ranked on a separate list by PFF, Tom Brady will not be mentioned in this article. Matthew Slater, who is also a top to-be free agent for the Patriots, was not on PFF's list, so he will be mentioned in part 2 of this series.
Ted Karras (C) - #100
Kicking off PFF's list is the Patriots' backup center, who started the entire 2019 second for New England - Ted Karras. Ranked as PFF's 20th best center during the 2019 season, the veteran backup did an excellent job of filling in for David Andrews, who was placed on IR in August. Because he displayed the ability to be a capable starting center, one can expect that a team struggling at the position will offer him a respectable contract this offseason in hopes of making him their starting center. New England won't match that, as Andrews is expected to return for the 2020 season. So, Karras has likely played his last snaps with the Patriots after being drafted by them in 2016.
Phillip Dorsett (WR) - #99
After proving to be one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets at the beginning of the 2019 season, once the team traded for Mohamed Sanu and had rookie wideout N'Keal Harry return from IR, Phillip Dorsett disappeared. He finished the season with 29 receptions for 397 yards and five touchdowns. The five scores were a career-high for the 5th-year veteran.
Though he will likely go cheap to whichever team he signs with during free agency, that doesn't make Dorsett more attractive to the Patriots. Because of their dire need to add an offensive weapon to their passing game, New England will need to get rid of some of their players at the receiver position. That means Dorsett, who plummeted down the depth chart towards the end of the season, is the odd-man out of that grouping. Dorsett may have seen his last days in New England, though a hometown discount could bring him back in the event that free agency doesn't go as planned for the Patriots.
Danny Shelton (DL) - #98
One of the best offseason grabs for the Patriots last year was re-signing Danny Shelton. During the 2019 season, he played in all 16 regular season games, recording 30 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Ranked as the 39th best player at his position, according to PFF, Shelton's market probably won't be very large this offseason, which could bode well in New England's favor. Because his market value won't be very high, the Patriots could offer him a respectable contract that could lure him back to them. His value on the field will likely exceed whatever he receives for a contract, which is why it's hard to imagine New England lets him walk in free agency.
Jamie Collins Sr. (LB) - #42
Here's where things begin to get tricky. Yes - Collins started off the 2019 season at a Defensive Player of the Year pace. However, the second half of the season saw a completely different Collins, one that was non-existent during games at times. The spectrum of play we have seen over the years from him, specifically during the 2019 season, will make him an interesting free agent this offseason. Collins' upside could earn him a big enough contract from an organization that may believe they can utilize his strengths, much like the Patriots have done. However, if that happens, don't expect New England to try and match their offer.
On the flip side - if the 31 other teams decide that Collins isn't worth the going-rate for a linebacker, which on average ranges between $6-10 million/year, then you'd have to think if he's going to play at a cheaper rate, it would be with New England, who he has proven to have success with, albeit at an inconsistent rate recently. How cheap a contract he's willing to play on would ultimately determine if he suits up in a Patriots uniform in 2020.
Kyle Van Noy (LB) - #32
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has earned himself a payday this offseason, which is why New England may have to say farewell to one of their most beloved, respected players of the past decade.
During the 2019 season, Van Noy, at age-28, recorded 41 tackles, 6.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, 14 QB hits, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. His versatility as an edge defender turned him into PFF's 16th best player at the position. Because of that, Van Noy will likely merit a strong market when the tampering period begins, one of which the Patriots may not even dabble in. New England hasn't been known to break the bank at the linebacker position, which is why someone like Van Noy, who could earn up $10+ million/year on his next contract, will more likely than not be playing elsewhere in 2020.
Joe Thuney (OG) - #16
If there is one player we can guarantee won't be playing in a Patriots uniform next season, it's starting left guard, Joe Thuney. The veteran offensive lineman had his best season t-date in 2019, which earned him the mark as PFF's 5th-best offensive guard. His elite play will earn him a hefty contract this offseason, one that the Patriots will not even try to contend with. There's not much more that needs to be said. Thuney has earned himself a payday, one that some team in the league will give him. But it won't be from New England.
Devin McCourty (S) - #15
Ranked as the 3rd-best free-agent safety this upcoming offseason, Patriots captain Devin McCourty has an interesting predicament come March 18. While he did have one of his best seasons to-date in 2019 (46 tackles, five interceptions, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles) his age and loyalty will likely factor into where he plays next season.
Yes - McCourty was ranked as PFF's 8th-best safety this season. But at age-31 and having played nine seasons with the Patriots, it's hard to imagine that A) McCourty will want to play elsewhere in the NFL, and B) New England won't offer him a big enough contract to remove the thought in his mind of playing elsewhere. One should expect McCourty to enter his 10th NFL season as a Patriot.
Those not mentioned on PFF's list that will be free agents this offseason for the Patriots will be mentioned in part 2 of this series, which will be published on Sunday, Jan. 26.