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Prioritizing the Patriots 2024 Free Agents

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New England Patriots guard Mike Onwenu blocks against the Washington Commanders during an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday Nov. 5, 2023 in Foxborough, Mass. Onwenu should be the Patriots top priority in NFL free agency. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

There is a lot of work to do for the New England Patriots to field a more competitive team in 2024. There will be a lot of new faces in the locker room, both on the coaching staff and on the roster. New England is currently searching for an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator to complement head coach Jerod Mayo. But who are these coaches going to coach?

Patriots Football Now recently looked at the current roster, breaking down the offense, defense, and special teams players under contract for next season. New England also has a number of unrestricted free agents to make decisions on. There are 19 UFA’s to be exact. Here is a breakdown of how the New England Patriots should prioritize this group.

Top Priorities (3)

RT Mike Onwenu, TE Hunter Henry, S Kyle Dugger

Onwenu should be the first issue of business for New England. He is a quality player at a position of need, who has expressed a desire to stay in New England. ESPN recently reported that the Patriots would not be bringing Onwenu back due to his value on the open market, but that is a decision that could prove more costly than his contract. It is possible for New England to add one starting tackle through the draft, but is bringing in two realistic? Do they trust any other tackle options on the roster? Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Patriots, protecting them needs to be a top priority, and that should start with bringing back Mike Onwenu.

Replacing Hunter Henry at tight end is a tougher task than many realize. Not only is he the top tight end among free agents, the NFL Draft is not deep at the position. Aside from Georgia’s Brock Bowers, who should be a top ten pick, no other prospects will be able to step in and replace Henry in Week 1. If Henry is not brought back, it will be tough to argue New England hasn’t taken a step back at the position.

Kyle Dugger led the Patriots in defensive snaps in 2023 with 1,115. He also led the team in solo tackles. Dugger is a quality player who would be tough to replace. He falls third on this priority list because his cost might be prohibitive. There are also more ways to replace to Dugger on the market or through the draft than there are for Henry. But trying to get their starting safety back should obviously be a priority for the Patriots.

Would be Great to Have Them Return (6)

LB Josh Uche, WR Kendrick Bourne, LB Anfernee Jennings, RB Ezekiel Elliott, LB Mack Wilson, DB Myles Bryant

Josh Uche took a step backward in 2023 after a breakout 2022 campaign. This was due partially to health issues. Uche also missed having Matthew Judon attract the attention of opposing offenses. Uche was in attendance at Jerod Mayo’s introductory press conference, which speaks positively of his relationship with the head coach.

Bourne was the most explosive offensive player on the Patriots prior to his season-ending injury. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Bourne would be welcomed back at the right price. He is a playmaker, something the teams lacks. If the Patriots can add a number one receiver, DeMario Douglas and Bourne can be quality second and third options.

Anfernee Jennings picked a good time to have his best season for the New England Patriots. He was especially stout against the run, taking on a larger role due originally to others injuries, and eventually because of his own play. Like the other free agents in this group, getting him back would be beneficial to the Patriots, as long as it doesn’t break the bank to do so.

If anyone was questioning whether Ezekiel Elliott had anything left in the tank, he proved in 2023 that he did. He led New England in rushing yards (642), receptions (51), and yards from scrimmage (955). With Rhamondre Stevenson back however, the Patriots may opt to spend money elsewhere.

Mack Wilson came on strong in the second half of the season. Despite being a five-year NFL veteran, Wilson is still only 25-years-old. He finished with 3.5 sacks and was a core special teams player for the Patriots as well. As with Uche and Jennings, Wilson coming back would solidify a strong linebacker group coming back in 2024.

Despite frequently being on the receiving end of backlash from fans, Myles Bryant had a very solid season in 2023. His ability to play both cornerback and safety makes him a versatile and valuable member of the defense. He finished 2023 with career highs in defensive snaps (851) and tackles (65).

Other Options to Return (4)

TE Mike Gesicki, TE Pharaoh Brown, DB Jalen Mills, WR/RS Jalen Reagor

Both Gesicki and Brown fill a need a tight end, where only La’Michael Pettway currently resides on the New England Patriots roster. Neither is well-rounded enough to be a TE1, but both provide value at the right price.

Mills transitioned from cornerback to safety in 2023. He provides depth at safety, especially if Kyle Dugger does not return. However, it seems more likely that his roster spot is used on a minimum salary veteran or a rookie.

Reagor produced one of the few highlights for the Patriots this season, courtesy of his 98-yard kickoff return touchdown. With Marcus Jones likely back to handle return duties in 2024, Reagor might not have a spot. However, he was solid on kickoff returns, and showed a few flashes in the passing game as well.

Four More (4)

OL Riley Reiff, OL James Ferentz, ST Cody Davis, TE Matt Sokol

These players could all fight for a roster spot, though none moves the needle much whether they stay or go.

Retirement (1)

ST Matthew Slater

The longtime New England Patriots captain appears to be headed for retirement. If Matthew Slater wants to return for a seventeenth season, the Patriots would be happy to have him. If Slater wants to transition into a coaching role as New England’s special teams coordinator, no Patriots fans would object with that move either.

Last but Not Least (1)

OT Trent Brown

Brown was one of the New England Patriots biggest bright spots in the first half of the season. He was one of the most disappointing players in the second half. Brown will be one of the most coveted offensive tackle free agents. New England desperately needs help at that position. This combination should make Trent Brown a high priority. However, bring publicly critical of the team, reportedly announcing he was headed elsewhere with four games to play, and appearing to “quietly quit” on the Patriots makes it difficult to endorse a return. If getting a betting culture in the building back is as important as Jerod Mayo indicates, Trent Brown is a risky choice to have as a part of the next era in Foxboro.

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