The National Football League is too dangerous for any New England Patriots players to not give maximum effort on every play. When analyzing the option of tanking for a top draft pick that fact cannot be underestimated. But there is a big difference between losing games intentionally and just not being good enough to win. This season the Patriots don’t seem to need any “help” losing games. But with the NFL Trade Deadline looming, it is worth looking at which players will not be part of turning the team back into a winner.
Usually as the trade deadline approaches New England is thought of as a franchise looking to make an addition. But history as shown that even in contending years, Bill Belichick is as likely to ship a player out as he is to add one. Over the past decade the Patriots have made in-season trades for players such as Kyle Van Noy, Josh Gordon and Mohamed Sanu. During that same span, deadline departures have included Jamie Collins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Stephon Gilmore.
With the New England Patriots a long shot (at best) to participate in the 2023 NFL Playoffs, getting in the best shape possible for life after this season is logical. This year’s squad might not be able to turn things around, but there are players on it who can. For those who will not be part of the desired resurgence, getting something back for them before the trade deadline is the way to go.
So who will stay and who will go? With 18 members of the 53-man roster set to become unrestricted free agents in 2024, the options are plentiful. Here’s a look at those most likely to go:
LB Josh Uche
The New England Patriots reportedly had contract extensions with Uche prior to the season. At this point he is set to hit free agency and will command a lucrative contract. Would the Patriots match a huge offer? Would they even be given a chance to? Probably neither. Uche recorded 11.5 sacks in 2022, but this season is down to 2.5 while battling injuries. Although he is not in the elite group of pass rushers, like injured teammate Matthew Judon, he is solidly in the next tier. If there a playoff contender looking to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks? If so, it seems unlikely there are many better options out there than Josh Uche.
LT Trent Brown
Brown has easily been the best offensive lineman for the Patriots this season. Among the weakest positional group on the team, he has been a silver lining. The Patriots did give Trent Brown a restructured contract a few weeks back. However, the new deal still enables Brown to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. In theory it would be nice to hold onto the only blocker seemingly able to block. Quarterback Mac Jones definitely doesn’t need more pressure this season, especially coming from his blind side. But if there is a contending team in need of help at left tackle, due to talent or injury, Trent Brown is the best one available. If so, the Patriots may look to replace him with an offensive tackle in the 2024 NFL Draft.
OL Mike Onwenu
Speaking of offensive lineman, Mike Onwenu is also set to hit free agency. Before being any sort of trade bait, he will need to show he is healthy. Onwenu was inactive to start the season, and when he was playing his best football of the year against the Saints two games ago, he left injured again. This past Sunday he dressed as an “emergency lineman” but did not play any offensive snaps. With the ability to play both guard and right tackle, Onwenu is another attractive option for teams looking to bolster their offensive front. With Cole Strange, Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow among the options to play guard in 2024, moving on from Mike Onwenu is very possible.
DB Kyle Dugger
Although not named a team captains, coaches credit Dugger for helping with communication of the defensive backs this season. That was an area of concern after the departure of longtime Patriot Devin McCourty. The New England Patriots also have Jabrill Peppers at safety, but both Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills (another pending UFA) have failed to earn many snaps there this season. Dugger was a second-round pick back in 2020 and has not missed more than two games in a season. Last year Dugger returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He was responsible for eight turnovers from 2021-to-2022 but has not caused any yet this season. In 2023, Dugger is on pace for his first 100-tackle season in the NFL. Based on potential to be a longtime leader in the secondary, Dugger is the least likely of the players listed so far to be moved.
WR Kendrick Bourne
Bourne has been New England’s best wide receiver and it’s not particularly close. He has 28 receptions, 307 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The next top two Patriots wide receivers combined have 27 receptions and 279 yards. Bourne’s three seasons in New England have had their share of ups and downs. He has sat (been benched) for long stretches, then flashed WR1 potential. Being the top option in New England definitely doesn’t make Bourne a true top option for another NFL team, especially a contending one. There could also be several other solid receivers on the market. However, based on Bourne’s big play potential he would be a nice addition for a team trying to make their offense more dynamic.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
A few weeks ago it would have seemed unlikely that Elliott would be moved but times have changed. In New England, the team is no longer looking like a team willing, or at least able, to complete. Elliott was also not playing great at the time. This past weekend he showed a burst that hadn’t been seen this season. He also displayed his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. With running back being such a volatile position for players to stay healthy, Ezekiel Elliott could be exactly the type of veteran running back that could be brought in as an injury replacement.
LB Anfernee Jennings
Jennings came to Foxboro as part of the same draft class as Uche and Dugger. He did not do a lot on defense in his first three seasons, which included missing the 2021 season entirely. With Matthew Judon out, and especially if Josh Uche is traded, the most likely outcome is that the New England Patriots use the rest of 2023 to let Jennings show what he can do. The staff can evaluate Jennings further in games to determine if they want him to be a part of the future plans. It is also unlikely that Jennings would get back enough of a return to have it be worth playing so shorthanded on the edge.
TE Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki
It seems less likely that Henry be traded of the two. He is a team captain and is likely somebody the Patriots would like to bring back for a new deal. Although the reality is that New England won’t be looking to pay Hunter Henry what he got on his last deal with the team. It would be understandable if he felt a bit of frustration since joining the Patriots. Henry began this season as New England’s top receiving option, but was largely ignored. Through four games Henry was targeted 23 times. Those targets resulted in 17 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns. The past two games combined he has one reception on five targets for seven yards. Being forced to help a struggling line block doesn’t help his effectiveness as a receiver either.
Gesicki is more a receiving tight end than a blocker. He has 15 receptions for 144 yards. He would likely be an injury replacement for a receiving tight end on a contending team. Otherwise, there is a good chance Gesicki stays put. Pharaoh Brown, the Patriots third tight end, is also a free agent after the season. But it is difficult to imagine another team will value a block-first TE enough to make Belichick part ways with him.
WR DeVante Parker
Parker is different than the aforementioned players on the list for two reasons. He is not a free agent after this season. Parker also would not be traded to get something back in return. In fact, the Patriots would likely have to give up a draft pick in order for somebody to take Parker off of their hands. It would basically be a salary dump. Moving on from Parker would also give some of the younger receivers on the team (Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte) a chance to prove they are NFL-caliber receivers before heading into 2024.
Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan did a nice job of breaking down the ramifications of moving on from DeVante Parker in different ways:
Been asked about the salary cap impact of the Patriots moving on from DeVante Parker in 2024. Hopefully, the below screenshot answers those questions. pic.twitter.com/pSP73KCZn4
— Miguel Benzan Patriots Cap Space is 2,826,636 (@patscap) October 16, 2023
Other New England Patriots Scheduled to be Unrestricted Free Agents in 2024
WR Ty Montgomery
LB Mack Wilson, Sr.
DB Myles Bryant
DB Jalen Mills
ST Cody Davis