Colin Healy ‘25
Coming off a huge disappointment of a season, the New England Patriots have hit free agency to assemble their team for the 2023 campaign. Ever since Tom Brady’s 2020 departure, the Pats have been playing catchup with the rest of the league, and 2023 will be no different. The landscape of the AFC, and even the AFC East, has changed dramatically in the three years after Brady left. This year will be no different. Bill Belichick will have to put together a roster capable of competing with the powerhouses of the AFC, a category the Patriots no longer find themselves in.
Despite the questionable play calling and schematics that dominated Patriots storylines in 2022, the team’s roster was undoubtedly sub-par and not capable of competing with the NFL’s best. They deserved to miss the playoffs with such a roster.
But it’s a head scratcher as to why Belichick and owner Robert Kraft haven’t been able to assemble a championship roster in the post-Brady era. The Pats seem to still be in rebuild mode, which may be naive to say as rebuilds tend to take time, but this is year four without Brady and the Patriots aren’t even in conversations to make the playoffs let alone win Super Bowls.
So this is where New England finds themselves in the midst of free agency. So far, the Patriots have lost a few big players from last season, namely WR Jakobi Meyers, S Devin McCourty, RB Damien Harris, and TE Jonnu Smith. Meyers was Mac Jones’ favorite target the past couple of seasons.
Though many do not consider Meyers to be in the upper echelon of wideouts, his departure nonetheless requires the Patriots to replace and possibly upgrade at the WR position. The team is hoping that JuJu Smith-Schuster, who recently signed for three years, will provide the offense with a spark. Coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Chiefs, Smith-Schuster will slot in nicely with DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne.
Although rumors persist that the Patriots are looking to sign another big play-maker at the WR position, the signing of Smith-Schuster indicates the team is taking necessary steps to maximize their options on the offensive side of the ball. New England also signed TE Mike Gesicki and RB James Robinson to fill gaps left by Jonnu Smith’s and Damien Harris’ departures.
On top of this, the Pats signed two offensive linemen in Riley Reiff, an 11-year veteran, and Calvin Anderson, who will compete for a starting job. These moves will address a porous offensive line that allowed 41 sacks last season. Giving Mac Jones time to deliver balls to his offensive weapons will be important for the 3rd year QB to lead the team forward and into the playoffs.
On the other side of the ball, New England is looking to add at the safety and cornerback positions. For the first time in over a decade, New England’s secondary will be missing Devin McCourty, who retired after a 13-year career. In the opening rush of free agency, the Pats did not address these team needs, which may signify that they are looking to the upcoming draft to round out their defense. Still, New England will likely look to add veterans to their secondary to create competition for starting jobs. They also re-signed some of their UFAs in S Jabrill Peppers and CB Jonathan Jones, as well as releasing hybrid DB Jalen Mills to free up some much needed cap space. Time will tell what else they do. One name to look out for is former Rams’ S Taylor Rapp, who has been repeatedly linked to the Patriots.
With recent rumors indicating that the Jets will sign QB Aaron Rodgers, the AFC East will be as crowded as it has been in recent memory. Such an upgrade at the QB position will automatically make the Jets a playoff contender. It is a sign that New England must act fast if they are to not only keep pace but exceed pace with the division and the AFC. The top teams of Kansas City, Cincinnati, and division rival Buffalo are not going anywhere any time soon and will certainly be favored to win the AFC in the upcoming season.
It is still too early to tell how good the Patriots will look on paper. Once the draft is complete, more accurate forecasts can be made. However, it is obvious now that the Patriots are scrambling to play catch-up. The younger and faster AFC is requiring New England to ditch its dynasty-era identity for a new one, one that has not yet been found. It is still a work in progress for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
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