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First Look: 2024 New England Patriots Defense and Special Teams

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New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez

As the New England Patriots (2-8) prepare to play the New York Giants (3-8) Sunday, many followers of both teams have already turned their attention to next season. Fans are already looking forward to the 2024 NFL Draft, and possible free agent targets. But to determine what next year’s team needs, it is important to start with what they have.

There was a previous first look at the 2024 New England Patriots offense. Now the rest of the roster is analyzed, with a first look at the defense and special teams units. Miguel Benzan, better known to the X community as @patscap, predicts the Patriots will sign practice squad players to future contracts. Thus, current practice squad players are included here.

This roster includes players under the team’s control for next season. Hopefully this makes it easier to predict positions the Patriots should target to improve. Do not mistake this for a prediction or projection, it is simply where things stand as of right now. The offense has already lost one player, running back Patrick Taylor, from the first look just a few days ago.

And with that, a first look at the 2024 New England Patriots defense (* is a practice squad player, projected to sign a future contract):

Defensive Line (10)

Christian Barmore, Daniel Ekuale, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Jeremiah Pharms, Sam Roberts, Keion White, Deatrich Wise, William Bradley-King*, Trysten Hill*

A lot of players return to this group, which has been solid this season, specifically at defensive tackle. Barmore has proven to be a potential cornerstone of the defense moving forward. In his third year, he has been at his best. Godchaux has also been very solid, proving to be a dependable DT. Rookie Keion White has shown glimpses of being a difference maker for the defense. However, White will need to improve on his consistency moving forward.

Veterans Wise and Guy are both team leaders and great teammates. Neither has been as productive this season as in years past. Guy has had decreased production despite similar snap counts. Wise has looked solid in the run game, but his pass rushing numbers are way down. This is partially due to the trickle down effect of missing Matthew Judon on the Patriots defense.

Daniel Ekuale was injured in the third game of the season against the Jets, and has been on IR ever since. Like the rest of the remaining group, he will be fighting to keep his job in training camp, assuming he’s back healthy. Adding another defensive end should be part of the plans.

Linebackers (5)

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Matthew Judon, Raekwon McMillan, Jahlani Tavai, Joe Giles-Harris*

There will need to be some additions to the 2024 Patriots linebacking group. Those could come from outside of the organization, either via the NFL Draft or free agency, or by bringing back their own free agents. Josh Uche has struggled to stay healthy, and to match his breakout 2022 campaign (11.5 sacks). Anfernee Jennings is also going to be a UFA. Getting back Judon will certainly help improve the chances of everyone else contributing, as he generates the most attention on the team.

Jahlani Tavai has been one of the bright spots of the 2023 season for the New England Patriots. He has been given additional responsibilities and thrived. The only aspect of his game in which he has not excelled has been the pass rush, which is why the return of Judon (and help) is so important. Bentley is a team captain and reliable player, who will be part of the future plans for the Patriots. The focus will be on adding pass rushing help, both from the defensive ends and outside linebackers.

Other Patriots could be listed here, but are noted at other positions below: Marte Mapu, Chris Board, and Calvin Munson.

Cornerbacks (8)

Christian Gonzalez, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Shaun Wade, Isaiah Bolden, Alex Austin*, Azizi Hearn*

Getting Christian Gonzalez back healthy for his sophomore season will be the most important aspect of this unit for next season. The rookie first-round pick was off to an impressive start before injury derailed his season too soon. Likewise, Marcus Jones (who could also be listed as a return specialist below) coming back in 2024 should be a boost to the Patriots. Marcus Jones needs to prove capable of contributing on defense as well as special teams when he returns. Veteran Jonathan Jones has been solid for New England, and could will certainly be in the mix for playing time once again.. Shaun Wade has shown improvement this season, and is a reliable depth corner. Bolden could find his best path to making the NFL roster as a special teams specialist in 2024.

J.C. Jackson‘s salary cap hit is scheduled to be $14.375 million in 2024. Even before his recent disciplinary issues, his play did not warrant Jackson coming back at that number. However, he is also not going to make anywhere near that on the open market. If he can reestablish himself in what remains of the 2023 season, renegotiating a deal in order for him to remain in Foxboro is certainly on the table.

Myles Bryant is the notable absence from players with significant playing time in 2023. Although Bryant has often come under scrutiny from fans, he is a solid depth piece that would be welcomed back at the right price.

Safetys (5)

Jabrill Peppers, Marte Mapu, Adrian Phillips, Joshuah Beledsoe*, Breon Borders*

Although Peppers returns, fellow starting safety Kyle Dugger is set to hit unrestricted free agency. If the New England Patriots do not retain his services, there will be a big hole for them to fill in the offseason. Peppers has been very good this season, and has became a fan favorite quickly. Mapu is listed as a safety here. Although he has been listed as a linebacker by the Patriots official roster, he is lining up for the majority of his snaps at safety. New England seemed to draft Mapu with a plan in mind, but that plan has yet to come to fruition, as the rookie has struggled. He needs to prove he deserves more snaps, no matter where he plays. Phillips is another guy that could be listed as a core special teamer, but he does provide some safety depth.

Along with Dugger, Jalen Mills is also going to be an unrestricted free agent. Myles Bryant has played some safety as well, and is also a UFA. So whether it is through the draft, free agency, or bringing people back, this is a position that will certainly need to be addressed.

Special Teams (6)

Chad Ryland (PK), Bryce Baringer (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Brenden Schooler (ST), Chris Board (ST), Calvin Munson (ST)*

The rookie specialists, Ryland and Baringer, have both been fairly solid this season. Ryland had a slow start, and a costly miss against Indianapolis. But barring something unexpected in the remainder of 2023, it is hard to foresee the Patriots moving on from him after only one season. Baringer has looked very good. He is likely to be in New England for a while (though the same was recently thought about both Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey). Joe Cardona is likely set as the long snapper for a while. He seems to have overcome his early season struggles.

Brenden Schooler looks like he will take the torch as the next great special teams player for the Patriots. Linebackers Board and Munson are also core special teams players, who have not seen much defensive time.

Special teams legend Matthew Slater is not signed for next season. Likely he’d be welcomed back in New England last season, regardless of who is running the football operations in Foxboro. But after so much success throughout his career, it is possible that 2023 is Slater’s NFL swan song.