New England Patriots free agent class; who will return and who will depart

While the Patriots are strapped with cap space this offseason, they have quite a few free agents of their own they could spend their money on. The Patriots have 21 unrestricted free agents heading into the offseason, and it’s safe to assume that not all of them will be suiting up for the Patriots next season. Let’s take a position by position look at the team to see who’s heading into free agency, and whether we think they are going to return or head elsewhere.

Quarterbacks (2) – Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer

Patriots: Brian Hoyer's latest comments sure sound like Cam Newton will be  QB1

Two of the Patriots top 3 QB’s are set for free agency this offseason, and there’s a good chance neither will return for next season. Hoyer is almost certainly not going to return, as he looked terrible during his one start against the Kansas City Chiefs, and was then inactive for the rest of the season. Newton on the other hand is somewhat unknown. The longer the Patriots don’t make a move for another QB, it increases Newton’s odds at returning, which may be the best option for New England. Newton’s market probably won’t be too active, which would allow the Patriots to scoop him up on a cheap deal again, making him the bridge to the Pats QB of the future. Either way, while it seems very unlikely that Hoyer will return, Newton’s odds are probably 50/50 right now.

Running Backs (2) – James White, Rex Burkhead

James White, Rex Burkhead unsung heroes of Week 1

The Patriots two most versatile backfield options are up for free agency, and there’s a good chance that atleast one of them won’t be back for next season. The Patriots didn’t use White to his full capacity throughout the season, as Newton struggled to get the ball to the pass catching back. With the team heavily relying on the combination of Damien Harris and Sony Michel to close out the season, it’s fair to wonder whether the Patriots will look to bring back White. Burkhead on the other hand was having a solid season before tearing his ACL against the Houston Texans. There’s a chance that Burkhead’s injury may reduce his market, meaning he could come back to the Patriots for cheap. As of right now, Burkhead’s return seems more likely than White’s, but both backs could end up going either way.

Pass Catchers (2) – Damiere Byrd, Donte Moncrief

Patriots: Damiere Byrd knocked out by scary hit vs Jets

With the Patriots having no tight ends up as free agents, the pass catcher group should see some consistency heading into next season. Byrd had a pretty solid first year with the Patriots, as he posted 47 catches for 604 yards and a touchdown. He could find a better deal with elsewhere in free agency, but if not it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return for next season. Moncrief was a midseason addition to the Patriots and weaved his way into the special teams unit. His familiarity with the Patriots system could make him a solid low cost option to return to the Pats.

Offensive Linemen (3) – Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Jermaine Eluemenor

Joe Thuney, David Andrews … what about Cam Newton? Ranking Patriots' free  agents – The Athletic

The o-line could look very different for New England next season, as two starters in Thuney and Andrews could be on the way out. Unless the Patriots place the franchise tag on Thuney for the second year in a row, which would be surprising, Thuney seems likely to be on his way out. Thuney has developed into one of the best linemen in the league due to his durability and versatility, and he will command a massive deal if he hits the open market. Andrews has also developed into a solid center for the Patriots, and his season long absence from the Patriots two seasons ago really hurt the Pats o-line. If the Patriots do end up losing Thuney, they should do whatever they can to ensure Andrews returns to the line. He has missed some time with injuries the past couple of seasons, which could diminish his value to an extent, but he will still be sure to get a solid deal in free agency. Here’s to hoping it’s with New England. Eluemenor was a solid backup lineman who was able to slot in at multiple different positions last season. Another team could value his versatility more than the Patriots, but if not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to New England for next season.

Defensive Linemen (5) – Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, John Simon, Deatrich Wise Jr., Carl Davis

Patriots could be left light on defensive line when Lawrence Guy hits free  agency | RSN

The defensive line is most likely going to receive upgrades, so it’s safe to expect some of these names to move on. One of those guys shouldn’t be Guy however. Guy has been a really solid interior lineman whose great against the run game, and he was sorely missed in the two games he missed last season. Bringing him back should be the priority at this position. Butler on the other hand, seems relatively unlikely to return, as he will probably get a deal worth more than the Patriots are willing to give him. Simon and Wise are two of the Patriots top edge players, and it seems more likely Simon returns than Wise. Simon has been much more consistent than Wise in his time in New England, and the Patriots should be looking to upgrade their pass rush this offseason, which means moving on from Wise could be a possibility. Davis could return to the Pats for the right price, as he has experience with the system, despite not seeing much action on the field.

Linebackers (2) – Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland

Patriots place Shilique Calhoun on IR, activate Jermaine Eluemunor |  Boston.com

Two under the radar options are up for free agency at the linebacker position. Calhoun missed a lot of time with injuries this past season, but has shown some potential as a pass rusher, and should be able to return on a cheap deal. Copeland was a core member of the special teams unit, before suffering a season ending pectoral injury. Copeland may end up retiring, but if he doesn’t he could return to help out with the Patriots special teams unit for next season.

Defensive Backs (2) – Jason McCourty, Terrence Brooks

New England Patriots: Jason McCourty a veteran presense on defense

One of the strongest positions of the Patriots roster will retain most of it’s key players. McCourty seems unlikely to leave the Patriots, as he seems intent on finishing out his career alongside his twin brother. He should be able to return on a relatively team friendly deal. Brooks was a solid special teams player, and filled in on defense when needed. He may be able to get a better deal than the Patriots are willing to give him, but if not the Patriots should look to pounce.

Special Teams (3) – Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, Nick Folk

Nick Folk hits game-winning kick for Patriots against Jets – The Athletic

The Patriots value special teams production more than any other team in the league, so it would be surprising if Bethel and Davis didn’t end up returning. Folk had a fantastic season for New England last year, and with no other real option behind him, they should look to resign him for atleast next season too.

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