Patriots offseason guide 2020: Key free agents, team needs, targets, salary cap & draft picks

The Patriots’ 2020 offseason might look like nothing we’ve seen from New England in nearly two decades. Since the Pats won their first Super Bowl with Bill Belichick after the 2001 season, they haven’t had to consider a change at quarterback.

Now, only two years removed from the dynasty’s sixth ring and coming off another AFC East title, they face the reality that Tom Brady could be joining a new team in his pending free agency.

Although Brady’s departure would be a monumental change, New England does have other personnel obstacles it must overcome to remain a playoff team. Below is a deep dive into the Patriots’ to-do list through NFL free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

NFL FREE AGENCY 2020: Ranking top 50 players

Patriots’ top priority: Figure out QB, Tom Brady or not

The latest news on the Patriots and Brady is no news. Although Brady’s agent Don Yee was at the NFL Combine, there have been no serious contract talks with New England.

Brady wants to explore his options, and the Patriots have options between the veteran QB market and the draft should they refuse overpay for a 42-year-old passer coming off a tough season. The focus has been on whether Brady will return, but the bigger question emerging is who the Patriots might have in mind as a replacement.

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Tom Brady”>

The seasoned options include the 38-year-old Philip Rivers, but a younger veteran such as Jameis Winston, 26, makes more sense because he could be a long-term solution. That also means the Patriots should inquire about Cam Newton, who’s entering his age-31 season, if the Panthers make him available via trade.

To that end, the Raiders’ Derek Carr, entering his age-29 season, also makes sense should Las Vegas choose to replace him with Brady.

Should they go the draft route, the Patriots could make an aggressive trade in an effort to land Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and go get some contingency and/or competition from a cheaper free agent such as Marcus Mariota. They also could wait for their rookie and go after Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Washington’s Jacob Eason on Day 2.

The least likely option is the Patriots simply rolling with Jarrett Stidham as Brady’s successor. Belichick wants to keep the team in position to keep winning, so some experience or upside — ideally the right combination of both — is most welcome.

Patriots free agents 2020

Here is a look at the Patriots’ key unrestricted, unsigned players for next season:

With Brady potentially on the way out, the Patriots are thinking most about re-signing Slater, their venerable special teams leader, and McCourty, their versatile, savvy defensive back. Slater is entering his age-35 season; McCourty will be 33. If they go to other teams, it would be on cheaper short-term deals; contracts the Patriots can afford to hand out, too.

From their offensive line, Thuney, a second-team All-Pro, and Karras, will be hard to keep given they can break the bank as interior starters elsewhere. Van Noy and Collins are perfect fits for Belichick’s defense, but the Patriots are likely to keep only one (likely the 30-year-old Collins).

Folk is a notable listing because the Patriots are likely moving on from Stephen Gostowski, who is coming off season-ending hip surgery at age 38. There’s a good chance they will draft a new field-goal kicker.

New England Patriots’ salary cap

The Patriots are in the middle of the pack in the NFL with about $42 million available.

They don’t need to force any cuts, but the most logical based on moderate savings and surplus would be running back Rex Burkhead and the other McCourty twin, Jason. That’s why they need to be judicious about how much they invest in quarterback to give them some flexibility with re-signings.

Biggest team needs

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Bill Belichick”>

Top free agent targets

The Patriots will have a keen eye on the quarterback carousel because of Brady, but wide receiver and tight end will be considerations, too. Breshad Perriman and the Robby Anderson could help them stretch the field at the former position. At the latter, Austin Hooper is the top prize with Hunter Henry expected to return to the Chargers.

For the offensive line, look for Andrus Peat to be an option to replace Thuney at left guard. Defensively, Michael Brockers at tackle would be ideal. At linebacker, Nick Kwiatkoski is Belichick’s type of player. At safety, the Anthony Harris (high end) and the Jimmie Ward (medium) have appeal because of their versatility.

Patriots draft picks 2020

Patriots upgrade secondary, defensive speed

The Patriots are also looking at getting four of the NFL’s 32 compensatory draft picks after losing Trey Flowers (third round), Trent Brown (third round), Cordarrelle Patterson (sixth round) and Malcom Brown (sixth round) last year. That would push their total from the average 7 picks to a strong 11.

In the draft, they will continue to be associated with the quarterbacks who will be picked behind LSU’s Joe Burrow. Wide receivers such as Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. and TCU’s Jalen Reagor have some first-round attraction after the team took Harry there last year. The tight end class is strong, and Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam are good impact targets on Day 2.

Should the Patriots go defense, an active linebacker (LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson and Patrick Queen and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray) comes into play, as do edge rushers such as Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos and Boise State’s Curtis Weaver.

The Patriots will be in a Day 2 sweet spot despite no Round 2 pick because they have two more coming for Round 3. Belichick has had some mixed results in recent drafts, and this one is vital for New England to extend its contention window, especially if Brady leaves.

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