Ranking the Patriots’ top 10 free agents: Who is going to draw the most interest?


So much of the discussion around the New England Patriots this offseason has centered around who they might add in free agency and the draft. That’s for good reason. The Patriots rank among the teams with the most cap space to use in free agency, and they hold the No. 3 pick in the draft. They have a chance to remake a roster that went 4-13 last season.

But it’s also important to consider the players they might lose. The Patriots’ expected group of unrestricted free agents includes both starting offensive tackles and one of their best defensive players.

Today we’re going to rank their free agents-to-be based on how much interest they’re expected to draw when free agency opens in mid-March.

Onwenu was already considered the best of the Patriots’ looming free agents even before he showed in the second half of the season that he could play a premium position. Out of necessity, the Patriots reluctantly moved Onwenu from right guard to right tackle in Week 7, and he quickly became a darned-good offensive tackle. His best position is probably still guard, but with a premium on tackles and so few options at that position, Onwenu can now bank on a bigger payday from a team willing to put him outside. The Patriots would need to fork over a lot of money — probably more than $13 million per year — to keep Onwenu.

Dugger was a prototypical Bill Belichick player and has been such a big part of what the Patriots defense has done well in recent years. He came to New England from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne but slowly improved, nabbing two pick-sixes in a standout 2022 season. His follow-up in 2023 wasn’t quite as good, but he offers precisely what many modern defenses seek. His size allows him to function as a linebacker, while his athleticism allows him to drop deep as a safety. He’s a hybrid safety hitting the market at a time when many defenses are looking for players who can do multiple things.

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Brown is coming off a roller-coaster 2023 season. Through the first seven games, Brown was arguably the league’s best left tackle, per Pro Football Focus. But knee and ankle injuries followed, and drama swirled after that. Shortly after Brown returned from injury in Week 12, reports surfaced about him being late to meetings and not taking practices seriously. During a dismal Patriots season in which the playoffs were quickly out of the question, Belichick made Brown a healthy scratch at the end of the season. Now, Brown is likely headed for a one-year deal from a team, a chance for him to show he’s still a high-end player who will work hard while minimizing risk for his next team. Still, his premium position and strong play when healthy means Brown could get $10 million next season.

At the outset of the 2023 season, it seemed Uche was primed for a massive payday. But after a drop in production, a multiyear deal with lots of money guaranteed probably won’t be on the table. In 2022, Uche was one of the NFL’s leaders in pressure rate, notching 11.5 sacks opposite Matthew Judon. But without Judon on the other side for most of 2023, Uche’s pressure rate and sack numbers (3.5) dipped. Now he’s likely headed toward the kind of one-year, prove-it deal Brown is.

Henry’s three years in New England yielded solid production — he averaged 510 yards and 5.6 touchdowns per season. He ranked 19th among tight ends last season, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics, and can probably command another multiyear deal considering he’s still just 29 years old. The Patriots don’t have a tight end under contract for 2024, so there may be interest in retaining him.

After a disappointing 2022 season in which Bourne was in the doghouse for most of the year, he seemed primed for a bounceback in 2023. He showed up to training camp in better shape and was consistently the team’s top offensive playmaker. He scored two touchdowns in the season opener and was leading the team in receiving yards (406) when he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 29. Amazingly, Bourne still finished with the second-most yards among Patriots receivers last season despite only playing in eight games. Indications from his camp are that he’ll be healthy for the beginning of next season, but he’ll need a team to take a chance on him coming off an injury.

The 780-yard campaign Gesicki put together with the Miami Dolphins in 2021 feels like a long time ago. He followed up that season with a disappointing 2022 campaign (362 yards), then his numbers cratered further in his first year in New England’s struggling offense (244 yards). The Patriots brought him in to be a mismatch against linebackers, but his poor run blocking meant the Pats instead had to use him as a big slot receiver.

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It took a few years, but in 2023 Jennings looked like the run-stopping linebacker the Patriots hoped for when they picked him in the third round of the 2020 draft. After minimal playing time in his first three years, Jennings played 67 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season. It’s still hard to trust him as an every-down linebacker because, while he’s incredible against the run, he’s a liability in pass coverage and when blitzing. But when the Patriots were able to rotate him with Uche, a pure pass rusher, the combination worked well.

Quietly, Bryant has played a meaningful role for the Patriots, often doing overlooked work while accepting backup roles. But Bryant has also made some impressive plays and is a perfectly serviceable nickel cornerback who can play a number of positions (including safety). He’s not going to break the bank in free agency, but he’s a nice depth option for a team in need of a slot corner.

After a disappointing 2022 season at cornerback, Mills mostly moved to safety in 2023, and the results were middling. He was ranked by PFF as the 76th-best safety out of 95 in the league. He’ll be 30 next season and is probably past his prime, but Mills can still bring a team a veteran presence and could be a decent No. 5 corner or No. 3 safety.

(Photo of Mike Onwenu: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)





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