10 free agents the Patriots should target to begin a massive rebuild

10 free agents the Patriots should target to begin a massive rebuild

The New England Patriots head into free agency with more salary cap space than any other team in the NFL. They have money to burn and will no doubt spend a lot of money to attract talent.

After all, New England is in a place it hasn’t been in more than two decades. The Patriots are at the bottom of the NFL with a massive rebuild ahead of them. There is an entire generation of New England fans who have never seen a situation like this, where the team will likely need years of talent acquisition and roster building to get back into playoff contention.

But the good news is that the Patriots can attack the top of the market at positions where they feel they need the most help. From my point of view, they need help at every single position on offense except center. (Though I think they should pick David Andrews’ eventual replacement.) And then defensively, they could use an explosive playmaker in the front seven.

With those thoughts in mind, here are some potential targets for the Patriots when the free agent signing period begins on March 13.

[READ MORE: 2024 NFL free agent rankings: Top 50 led by Chris Jones, Kirk Cousins]

Calvin RidleyWR, Jaguars

The Patriots have a rare combination of the following: 1) zero reliable receivers on the roster and 2) a boatload of cash.

“From a physical skill standpoint, we have to turn the offense into a weapon,” said Elliot Wolf, the team’s de facto general manager and director of scouting.

Ridley will likely be the most dangerous pass catcher on the market.

The other teams at the top of the market (Titans, Commanders, Bears, Texans and Colts) have a WR1. So New England will likely have to contend with teams that have better offenses but don’t have as much money — including Ridley’s current team in Jacksonville.

Ridley could help change New England’s offense. He has the ability to attack the deep and intermediate parts of the field while also delivering yards after the catch to shorter targets. What’s more, he’s providing yards that don’t appear on his stat line, with seven defensive penalties drawn for 129 yards — both the most in the NFL, according to nflpenalties.com.

Other intriguing options on the market include Tyler Boyd, a receiver who could help a rookie QB. If the Patriots get desperate, they could overpay Darnell Mooney, who looks like a poor man’s Ridley.

The truth is that receiver is one of the most sought after positions in the NFL. New England had one of the worst offenses in 2023. The acquisition process could be extremely difficult. Overpaying is inevitable.

Christian WilkinsDT, Dolphins

The Patriots will have to show Wilkins the money. But his film shows it would be worth it. New England wants to get faster and more explosive on defense, according to Wolff. Wilkins doesn’t exactly fit the bill in the traditional sense. But a player like Wilkins takes enough attention on defense to speed up the other 10 players on defense. He’s truly one of the best players at his position, and that’s why it’s rare for a player of his caliber to hit the open market.

A player like Chris Jones, who is the best player at his position, also makes sense. And then there’s a good player like Josh Allen, who would be an absolute nightmare against Matthew Juden.

The reason I went with Wilkins because of those guys? Wilkins is the right combination of price, talent and positional value. It also helps that New England will steal a player from their division rival in Miami – who has long been special Bill Belichick.

Noah FantON Sea hawks

I could see the Patriots pairing Fant, a pass-catching tight end, with a tight end like Austin Hooper, a blocking lineman. And if New England wants to go bankrupt at the position, it could pair Fant with Dalton Schultz, who would be the top free agent at the position.

But New England needs to hit that position hard with a lot of signings. Why? The Patriots have zero tight ends under contract for the upcoming season.

Fant never fully reached his potential as a first-round draft pick. But I think that’s partly due to his third-string role in every offense he’s been a part of in Seattle and Denver. The Patriots may see him as a player they could field with 100 targets on offense, especially with a rookie starting at QB. And that’s why I think he might want to go to New England: money and role promotion.

You may notice that Hunter Henry is not on this list. He was the captain in 2023 and was a valued member of the organization. He also makes a lot of sense to come back. I’m just wondering if his price and age (29) might not fit New England’s goals for a long-term rebuild. Hooper will be priced lower.

Gardner MinshuQB, Colts

It’s a complicated proposition when you’re adding a quarterback in free agency. New England will no doubt select a quarterback No. 3 overall. This rookie will compete to start. But that rookie might not win the job right away—nor does it necessarily have to. Wolf comes from Green Bay, where the Packers have had tremendous success developing their quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers was waiting behind Brett Favre. Jordan Love was waiting behind Rodgers.

That’s why I think the Patriots will get a QB who is a starter. Minshew was at his best running the Eagles’ offense, which has been a good spot for almost any QB not named Carson Wentz in recent years. (And even Wentz did well for a while.) But Minshew also excelled in less-than-stellar spots like Jacksonville and Indy.

He is no stranger to leading teams in flux.

Gardner Minshew: ‘Every time I can play football is heaven for me’

Gardner Minshu:

If the Patriots want to spend less and commit more to a rookie starter, then maybe they’ll take Jacoby Brissett or Joe Flacco. Both worked with new OC Alex Van Pelt in Cleveland, and the Patriots drafted Brissett.

Mehi BectonOh T Jet planes

Becton may have to sign a one-year deal to prove himself. The Patriots have so many needs along the offensive line that they might take a risk on Becton at left tackle. He is a good player with a huge injury list. But he could really thrive in Van Pelt’s system. This could be the right matchup for New England to protect their quarterback as they draft and develop a left tackle of the future — potentially someone they’ll find in the second round this year. Then again, the Jets have as many needs as New England on the offensive line. That helps the Patriots take Becton off the table as an option for New York.

Michael OnwenuOT/OG, Patriots

Bill Belichick had a reputation as a drafter, developing and then, often, dumping players like Onwenu. It can’t be like this anymore. This type of sentiment works for winning teams, where all those wins wash away the bad taste that comes with treating the players badly. New England loses. He may continue to lose another year (or two or … more). Things have to change.

The Patriots can afford to take care of their best players, and that’s Onwenu, an elite offensive lineman who will likely do the most or second most at his position. Pay Onwenu and place him in the right position. This solves big problems and is not a risky signing considering the Patriots know he works out in New England.

Kyle DuggarS, Patriots

Here is another player who is among the first in his position. It’s hard to pay a lot for a safety like Dugger, who is versatile but not a pure coverage hawk. That’s why Dugger could be the player the Patriots let test the market and try to match his deal. The truth is, he’ll probably be at his best in a defense like the one they run in New England. While this may be a humbling message to Dugger, it could go smoothly with a significant financial offer. And everyone is happy with Dugger back in New England.

Because new head coach Jerod Mayo knows as well as anyone that Dugger is one of the most underrated players in the entire league.

Franky LouvooLB, Panthers

Luvu is kind of like Dugger, but Luvu’s versatility will end up making him a lot of money. He has found a way to accumulate both tackles and sacks. He had 111 tackles and seven sacks in 15 games in 2022 and 125 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2023.

That production is sure to pique the interest of Mayo, a former inside linebacker. How badly do you think Mayo wants to pair Luvu with future Patriots Hall of Famer Dont’a Hightower, who is now the team’s linebackers coach and was a similar player to Luvu.

Luvu will be worth a lot for a defender. But he’s also the big spend Wolff can talk his way into because Luvou is prolific outside of the traditional inside linebacker mold. And he is the type of player whose potential Mayo can maximize.

Noah BrownWR, Texans

Here’s an idea for a guy who won’t be ungodly expensive. Brown has had good seasons, but has yet to enjoy a great one. New England might be one of the few places where he can land a WR2 position. If he likes the idea of ​​becoming a focal point — rather than riding on momentum as a WR3 in high-flying offenses — then maybe he’ll take a risk on a team like New England. The Patriots could sign him to a one-year, incentive-laden deal that has a base value of $5 million. And maybe he moves up the depth chart to an important role.

Kyle Van Noyedge Ravens

Van Noy is exactly the kind of steady, heady veteran who will bring a hugely influential role to a locker room that has been destabilized and divided under Belichick. Van Noy played under Mayo in 2019 and 2021. They certainly have a rapport. And as KVN proved in Baltimore in 2023, he’s still got it. If Van Noy accepts a one-year deal to be the starter and leader in New England, I’d bet Mayo would welcome the opportunity.

Before joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.

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