3 Contracts Patriots Must Prioritize in 2022 Offseason

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2022

3 Contracts Patriots Must Prioritize in 2022 Offseason

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    The New England Patriots found their way back to the postseason in 2021. Now they'll set their sights on taking the next step in 2022 in fielding a team that can make a run in the playoffs. 

    After missing out with Cam Newton under center in the first year of the post-Tom Brady era in 2020, last season has to be considered a success. Head coach Bill Belichick found his future signal-caller in Mac Jones and the team was again competitive enough to make the playoffs. 

    However, the early exit at the hands of the Buffalo Bills highlighted that this team is not quite ready to contend for a Super Bowl again just yet. 

    That's going to take some wise decision-making in the offseason. After last year's spending spree on the open market, the Patriots walk into the offseason with an estimated $17.7 million in space, per Spotrac. Of course, that's before any restructures or cuts that could free up more cash. 

    Even with those moves, the Pats are going to have to spend wisely to walk the fine line between contending right now and maintaining financial flexibility. 

    The first round of decisions should involve retaining these three talents. 

CB J.C. Jackson

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    J.C. Jackson figures to be the most divisive free agent the Patriots will have to make a decision on. 

    His value, should he hit the open market, figures to be astronomical. When a 26-year-old of his caliber is available, teams are willing to shell out the big bucks to bring him in. Spotrac's market value projection sees him getting a five-year, $104.7 million deal. 

    That's an annual average value of more than $20 million, which is more money than the team's projected cap space. 

    In short, signing Jackson for the long term is going to be difficult, and the franchise tag is projected to be around $17.2 million

    Still, it's hard to watch a corner of the Maryland product's caliber walk away. The Pats already said goodbye to Stephon Gilmore. Jackson is one of the rare CBs who boasts ball production (eight interceptions) while also providing consistent lockdown production (49.1 completion percentage allowed). 

    As difficult as it will be to find the money to keep him, it's vital to continue having a strong secondary. Playing in the same division as Josh Allen, that should be a priority. 

WR Jakobi Meyers

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    While Jackson is going to be really hard to retain financially, Jakobi Meyers should be the easiest decision the Patriots make all offseason. 

    The 25-year-old demonstrated great chemistry with Mac Jones all season. He led the team in both receptions and receiving yards as a reliable option that saw over 120 targets. 

    The Patriots can at least guarantee they will have him on the roster or a second-rounder added to their arsenal with a reasonable offer. Meyers is a restricted free agent, and the second-round tender is projected to be $4 million next season. 

    Alternatively, they could go even cheaper and use the right-of-first-refusal tender, which is only $2.4 million. The Patriots wouldn't have possible draft compensation, but they would still be able to control whether they have the opportunity to match any offer he gets. 

    It's a cheap and simple way to help their young quarterback have some continuity going into his sophomore campaign. 

LB Ja'Whaun Bentley

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    With the budget the Patriots are likely to be working with, they are going to have to decide between two linebackers set to hit the market. Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley are both set to hit free agency after manning the middle of the defense last season. 

    Hightower, 31, has been a fixture on the defense for a long time, but the team should opt for the younger option in this situation. Bentley has been a starter over the last two seasons and has plenty of tread on the tires at 25 years old. 

    The biggest advantage of going with Bentley is his ability in coverage. While Hightower is better as a run-stuffer who can offer some pass rush, his teammate is not a liability in the passing game. He held passers to an 87.3 rating when targeted last season. 

    Bentley's valuation from Over the Cap was $4.5 million. That wouldn't break the bank and would provide the Patriots with a solid starter equipped to be a part of the defense for the foreseeable future.