Free-Agent Contracts Patriots Must Consider Before Training Camp

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJuly 26, 2021

Free-Agent Contracts Patriots Must Consider Before Training Camp

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots made a huge splash during free agency early in the offseason. They added a pair of star tight ends (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry), bolstered their receiving corps (Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne) and brought in a strong pass-rusher (Matt Judon), a solid defensive back (Jalen Mills) and more.

    But the Pats still have room for another free-agent acquisition or two before training camp begins Wednesday in Foxborough, Massachusetts, or potentially over the next few weeks as preseason games get closer.

    New England has a few position groups on its roster that it could improve, should the team may decide to go back to the free-agent market.

    The Patriots currently have $13.36 million in available cap space, per Over the Cap. So if they want to bring in a veteran or two for depth at a weaker position, they should have the financial flexibility to do so.

    Here's a look at several free agents who are still available and should be considered by the Patriots heading into training camp.

Golden Tate, WR

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    The Patriots are heading into the 2021 season with Agholor as their top wide receiver. If he builds off his career year in 2020, New England will be in good shape. But what if the 28-year-old doesn't match that level of production?

    There isn't a ton of experience in the Pats' receiving corps, and N'Keal Harry could even be traded or cut before Week 1. That's why New England should consider signing a receiver such as Golden Tate, who remains one of the best available unsigned playmakers.

    Tate turns 33 next week, and he didn't have a great showing in 2020. In 12 games with the New York Giants, he had 35 receptions for 388 yards (his lowest total since 2011) and two touchdowns. But he could still have some gas left in the tank, especially if he joins an offense where he wouldn't be the first or even second option in the passing game.

    It may not be a huge signing, but the Notre Dame product could provide valuable depth and reliability. If Cam Newton starts at quarterback, he'd likely benefit from having as many weapons as possible while trying to have a bounce-back year. If Mac Jones starts, the rookie could lean on Tate as an experienced playmaker.

    Plus, Tate likely wouldn't come at a high cost. So there could be a potential fit for the 11-year veteran in New England.

Danny Amendola, WR

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    New England likely doesn't need to sign more than one additional receiver. But if it doesn't want to bring in Tate, why not go with another veteran who already has experience playing for head coach Bill Belichick?

    Danny Amendola played for the Patriots from 2013-17, and he had some of his best seasons while suiting up for them. Set to turn 36 in November, he will no longer produce at that level, but he could still be a valuable receiver to have further down the depth chart who could step up when needed.

    Last season, the Texas Tech product had 46 catches for 602 yards in 14 games for the Detroit Lions. He didn't get into the end zone for the first time since 2011 (when he played only one game), but he still had some impressive showings, recording more than 50 receiving yards in a game seven times.

    The Patriots are in a different place than they were when Amendola last played for them, as he won two Super Bowl titles during his previous stint with the team.

    Still, it could be fun for the veteran to finish his career in New England and potentially help the franchise get back to having success after a tough 2020.

D.J. Hayden, CB

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    According to Nicole Yang of the Boston Globe, Stephon Gilmore reported to the Patriots last Thursday, ending his holdout before training camp got underway. When there was greater uncertainty about his status, it was more pressing that New England should consider bringing in a free-agent cornerback.

    Still, the Pats don't know what the future holds. And beyond Gilmore and J.C. Jackson on the depth chart, they could use another experienced cornerback who could fill in if needed.

    D.J. Hayden is an eight-year NFL veteran who could be signed at a low cost to provide additional depth. The 31-year-old was limited to five games last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars due to a hamstring injury, but he could bounce back and return to his production level from 2019, when he had 41 tackles in 15 games.

    If Gilmore and Jackson both play and remain healthy, Hayden may not get on the field a ton. However, it's a move that could pay dividends deeper into the season, especially as the Pats need fresh players in the secondary.

    And Hayden is one of the best available corners who could fill that role.

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