Patriots' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 1, 2021

Patriots' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

0 of 3

    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    There are a lot of questions the New England Patriots have to answer before the 2021 season arrives. Who is going to be their next quarterback? How can they get their defense back to an elite level? And can they quickly get back to the playoffs without completely going all-in on a rebuild?

    Fortunately for the Pats, they have a lot of financial flexibility this offseason, so they should have an opportunity to better their roster via free agency (which begins March 17). They're projected by Over the Cap to have $62.2 million of available cap space (assuming a salary cap of about $180.5 million), which would be the third-most in the NFL.

    But if New England doesn't spend its money wisely, then things may not immediately get better for it after going 7-9 last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. So it'll be important for the Patriots to sign free agents who fill some of their biggest needs and will give them productive play worthy of how much they'll cost to bring in.

    The Pats will also need to avoid free agents who may not do that. So here's a look at several players who New England shouldn't try to go after this offseason.

All Quarterbacks

1 of 3

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Is the Patriots' next starting quarterback already on their roster? Probably not, as the only ones who are currently under contract are Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala. So New England is going to need to find a quarterback this offseason, ideally one who it can build around moving forward.

    That's why the Pats should find their next franchise quarterback through the draft rather than signing a free agent, like they did last offseason when they inked Cam Newton to a one-year deal. That didn't work out great, as Newton passed for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games. He made a bigger impact in the running game (592 yards and 12 touchdowns), but he still didn't play at the same level he did earlier in his career.

    Newton and Jameis Winston are among the top quarterbacks on this year's free-agent market. Dak Prescott could end up being available, but the Dallas Cowboys may franchise tag him again if they can't work out a long-term deal. If Prescott isn't a free agent, then there likely isn't a quarterback who the Patriots should pursue.

    Instead, New England should use its top draft pick on a quarterback. There are five who are projected by many to go in the first round. And while Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is likely going to be taken at No. 1, one of the other four (BYU's Zach Wilson, Ohio State's Justin Fields, Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance) could still be available when the Pats are on the clock at No. 15.

    Plus, New England could consider trading up to ensure it gets one of these quarterbacks. And that would be a better move than signing a free-agent quarterback this offseason.

T.Y. Hilton, WR

2 of 3

    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Considering the Patriots had no wide receivers with more than 729 yards or two touchdowns last season, it's clear they need to add playmakers this offseason. New England would be wise to use some of its free-agent budget on one of the top receivers on the free-agent market to bolster its offense and give its quarterback (whomever that may be) a reliable target to throw to.

    However, one wide receiver who the Patriots shouldn't go after is Hilton, who is a nine-year NFL veteran and will be turning 32 later this year. He still put up solid numbers in 2020 (762 yards and five touchdowns), but he's not quite as productive as he was earlier in his career with the Indianapolis Colts.

    New England needs to do what it takes to get a playmaker such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin or one of the other top-tier receivers who is still in his 20s. Then, the Patriots will have a receiver who won't only help their offense in the short term, but who can also be a player they build around moving forward.

    Hilton doesn't quite fit that bill. And although New England needs more playmakers on offense, it should find other targets to pursue, which could also include selecting a receiver in the NFL draft.

J.J. Watt, DE

3 of 3

    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The Patriots' defense could become better in 2021 before they make any moves. That's because of the potential returns of players such as linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung, who were among the players to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.

    Still, New England may want to pursue some top defensive free agents to help bolster the unit even more before next season. But it may not be worth the investment to go after a player such as Watt, who will surely be receiving some large offers when the free-agency period arrives.

    Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and five-time All-Pro selection, was released by the Houston Texans last month after spending his first 10 NFL seasons with the team. And while he hasn't been quite as productive in recent years, he can still provide a big boost to a pass rush.

    However, Watt is turning 32 later this month and has had some injury concerns in recent years (although he played all 16 games in 2020). He might make the Patriots' defense better in the short term, but they may want to go after younger players who can help them have sustained success moving forward.

    Watt is likely going to sign a big deal with a team this offseason. That team just shouldn't be the Patriots, who can use that money to address various needs and add players to build around for numerous seasons.