The Patriots have an abundance of salary-cap space in an offseason when many teams are feeling a crunch, which could be to their advantage. There is an opportunity for them to think big to fill glaring needs -- at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and the defensive front seven.
Here's what to expect from the Patriots when the NFL offseason hits high gear with the start of free agency on March 17:
Game plan: The past month has been devoted to exploring all options -- draft, free agency, trades -- in an offseason when 15 to 18 teams could emerge with new QBs. The carousel is spinning. The best-case scenario might be to acquire the original Tom Brady succession plan, Jimmy Garoppolo, from the San Francisco 49ers. But San Francisco needs to be convinced it has an upgrade before moving in that direction.
Game plan: Stay the course as the returning pieces provide a solid foundation, while making sure the "passing back" role is accounted for with White or a lower-cost option.
Game plan: Continue to watch Johnson grow into the role, with Vitale as insurance as he returns after opting out of the 2020 season.
Game plan: Upgrade. In a big way. That starts with monitoring which potential top targets are assigned the franchise tag (e.g. Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson II, Kenny Golladay) and then working the mid-level of free agency and the trade market as well.
Game plan: Upgrade. In a big way. If this sounds familiar, it's because wide receiver and tight end fall into a similar category without a surefire No. 1 option. This means monitoring if top free-agent targets are assigned the franchise tag (e.g. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith), and then exploring trade options.
Under contract: Isaiah Wynn (LT), Shaq Mason (RG), Mike Onwenu (G/RT), Marcus Cannon (RT), Justin Herron (OT), Korey Cunningham (OT), Marcus Martin (C/G), Najee Toran (C), Yodny Cajuste (OT), Ross Reynolds (G)
Game plan: After assigning Thuney the franchise tag in 2020, keep tabs on his market this year in an attempt to bring him back, knowing it is probably a long shot. That would make it imperative to ensure the return of Andrews. Also, a decision on Wynn's fifth-year option in 2022 is a big part of the offseason plans, as that would guarantee his salary in both 2021 and 2022.
Game plan: Make a strong effort to bring Guy back, as he has been one of the better free-agent signings of coach Bill Belichick's 21-year tenure. Butler is also a valuable cog as an interior rusher and warrants strong consideration to return. The Patriots weren't as stout up front in 2020, so this spot is a notable need.
Game plan: Hightower's projected return after opting out of the 2020 season changes the complexion of the group in the short term. Then, it's primarily about the development of younger linebackers such as Winovich, Uche and Jennings -- all high picks in recent years who have upside.
Game plan: Address Gilmore's $7 million base salary for 2021, which fuels the question of whether he'll be on the roster as that is well below market for a player of his caliber. Then tender Jackson at either the first- or second-round level, which would make it unlikely another team would take a run at him. Those are critical first steps, and then the idea would be to keep building quality depth.
Game plan: Put Dugger, last year's top pick (37th overall), in the best position to succeed and become a blue-chip player in the scheme. With three high-quality veterans around him, that's a great spot for him to be. Then look to add more youth and upside with the future in mind.
UFA: Nick Folk
Game plan: Attempt to bring Folk back after his solid 2020 campaign, but be prepared for backup plans in the event that doesn't happen. Aguayo and Rohrwasser are no sure bets to fill the void.