FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Plans start in-house: When agent Drew Rosenhaus took his annual visit to Patriots training camp in late July of 2022, checking in with coach Bill Belichick and his various clients on the team, he had a strategic decision to make with receiver Jakobi Meyers.
He could push for a contract extension. Meyers was coming off a season in which he led the team with 83 catches and had been tendered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent ($3.9 million). He was underpaid and worthy of a bump.
Or Rosenhaus could preach patience, reminding Meyers that he was one year away from hitting the open market, which is the ideal situation for players to land the most lucrative contract in a competitive bidding situation. The challenging thing to forecast was how the additions of receivers DeVante Parker (via trade) and Tyquan Thornton (second-round pick) would affect Meyers’ production, and if Meyers could stay healthy throughout the season.
It is unknown how far along Rosenhaus and Belichick ever got in their discussions last July, but as the legal negotiating period of 2023 free agency is set to begin Monday at 12 p.m. ET, Rosenhaus and Meyers (67 catches, 804 yards, 6 TDs in 14 games las2022) are now in a much stronger position of leverage. A combination of Meyers’ age (26), intangibles, and few other equally productive pass-catchers in free agency contribute to that standing (Meyers ranks as ESPN’s No. 13 free agent).
According to an NFL executive source, one team that explored the potential market for Meyers believes it will need to be in the range of $15 million-plus per year to sign him.
If that’s the way it unfolds (and projections don’t always come to reality), some around the NFL don’t see the Patriots retaining Meyers based on their history.
Meyers’ status should be one of the first dominoes to fall in New England’s free agent approach, but he’s far from the only one.
Defensive back Jonathan Jones was expecting things to heat up with his status, as he and agent Andy Simms see if the open market views him more as a pure slot (projected $6-9 million per year) or beyond that.
Jones, 29, said there have been conversations to return for an eighth season in New England, adding: “There’s definitely interest on both sides to get something done.”
As is often the case, the Patriots will first look to gain clarity on their high-level internal free agents (e.g., Meyers, Jones) before considering how aggressive to be on external options. One factor that could drive their decision-making is that this isn’t viewed as a strong overall free agent class.
2. Bates = Gilmore? In 2017, Belichick surprised at the start of free agency by signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a top-of-the-market deal. If Belichick takes a similar approach this year -- targeting a player with high-end traits in his prime years for a big contract -- there is one who stands out most as a Belichick-type fit: Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. Belichick has said that McCourty’s presence allows the Patriots to play defense the way they want, and a pass-the-torch type of situation with the 26-year-old Bates could solidify the Patriots’ secondary for years to come as they try to keep up with Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen & Co. in the high-powered AFC.
3. Patriots fits: If Belichick takes a more measured approach, letting the market settle or working more of the projected middle tier, Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen (Boston College) caught my eye as a player who had in-season success against New England who might pique interest as a versatile option for a multiple-front unit. The Patriots arguably had more trouble blocking Allen (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed) than they did J.J. Watt in their Dec. 12 win over Arizona. A few others on my “Patriots fits” list in the “more measured” category: Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, Chargers linebacker/special teamer Drue Tranquill, Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. and Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith (who played for offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien at Penn State).
4. OBJ workout: Odell Beckham Jr. held a workout Friday in Arizona, and Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports reported that the Patriots planned to be in attendance. That makes sense, because with Meyers’ projected lucrative free agent market making him a flight risk, and Nelson Agholor also expected to depart, the team should be considering all options to add to the thinning receiver depth chart alongside returnees Parker, Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Tre Nixon.
5. Double-digit picks: The Patriots enter the 2023 draft with 10 selections after being awarded two compensatory picks on Thursday (fourth round, sixth round) for the losses of J.C. Jackson and Ted Karras. Such volume isn’t uncommon, as under Belichick the Patriots have made 10 or more selections in a single draft 10 different times (2000, ’01, ’03, ’06, ’09, ’10, ’15, ’19, ’20, ’22).
Patriots 2023 draft picks:— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 9, 2023
🏈 3-76 (from Carolina)
🏈 4-107 (from L.A. Rams)
🏈 6-184 (from Carolina)
🏈 6-187 (from Las Vegas)
6. Third QB spot: The Patriots informed veteran Brian Hoyer of their intention to release him by the start of free agency, which opens the third quarterback spot behind starter Mac Jones and backup Bailey Zappe. While there might be a thought that adding a veteran sounding board is the way to go, the choice here would be a youngster to keep feeding the pipeline. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf drafted seven quarterbacks from 1992 to 1999, a run that produced Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck behind Brett Favre, and is often cited as a reason that it’s good business to draft and develop QBs. Wolf’s son, Eliot, currently serves as the Patriots director of scouting.
7. RFA tenders: Do the Patriots view fourth-year defensive back Myles Bryant worthy of a one-year, $2.6 million deal? The assumption is “yes,” but that is one question they will be decisively answering in the coming days, as Bryant (61% playing time, 68 tackles, 1 INT) is a restricted free agent and teams must decide by Wednesday whether to tender RFAs at the following levels:
First round: $6.0 million
Second round: $4.3 million
Original round: $2.7 million
Right of first refusal: $2.6 million
8. Tavai counts: Linebacker Jahlani Tavai (50% playing time, 63 tackles in 2022) won’t show up as part of the present snapshot of 2023 Patriots free agent signees because he inked a two-year, $4.4 million extension in November. That dynamic is something former Patriots VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli sometimes highlighted -- don’t overlook those who previously signed deals who would have been part of the 2023 free agent class.
9. Cardona’s health: Long-snapper Joe Cardona sustained a torn tendon in his foot that led to him missing the final three games of the 2022 season, but the free-agent-to-be did not require surgery and has since returned to full health. He had appeared in 140 straight games before the injury. Snappers generally don’t generate headlines in free agency, but Cardona’s consistency on the field -- and how he has connected the franchise to the military through his Naval Academy roots – puts him in a different category than most.
10. Did You Know: Since compensatory picks were first awarded by the NFL in 1994, the Patriots have received 48 of them. Only the Ravens (55), Cowboys (52) and Packers (49) have received more.