The New England Patriots have a large number of players set to hit free agency in 2020, but only a small handful of them absolutely must be re-signed.
All in all, the New England Patriots have 21 players who could become free agents in 2020. Of those 21 players, 18 are unrestricted free agents, with the other three all being restricted free agents come next spring.
Some of these players are no-brainers as far as whether or not the team should pony up the cash to get them signed to a new deal. Others are a bit more complicated.
Let’s take a look at all 21 of these individuals and do our best to assess whether or not Robert Kraft and the Patriots brass should prioritize bringing them back for another season after this current year ends… hopefully in February, of course.
ABSOLUTELY MUST BE RE-SIGNED:
Even though Brady is in the midst of one of his worst statistical seasons since he joined the NFL back in 2000, he should be the Patriots’ top priority this offseason when it comes time to work out new deals for players. Brady will be 43 years old before the 2020/2021 NFL season begins, but he hasn’t shown anything this year that would make most observers think he’s in apparent decline. Rather, the problem for New England is that they haven’t done enough to support him and surround him with talent and stability this year… so Brady himself could potentially want out, as crazy as that may seem.
McCourty openly flirted with retirement before Super Bowl 53, so it wouldn’t be crazy to see him walk away at the end of this season – especially if he wins another ring and the Patriots are triumphant in Super Bowl 54 (assuming they make it there first, of course). The longtime New England safety has had a renaissance year, but it’s unknown how much longer he wants to play in the league before calling it a career. If he does come back though, you’d have to think both sides would want him coming back in a New England uniform. McCourty has spent his entire career up in Foxborough under Bill Belichick.
Kyle Van Noy
The heart and soul of this Patriots defense, Van Noy has been a completely different player since coming over via trade from the Detroit Lions a few seasons ago. Alongside Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, Van Noy forms arguably the best linebacking trio in the NFL right now. He has a penchant for coming up with the ball – whether it’s via interception, forced fumble, or fumble recovery, and he’s the prototypical Patriots defenseman in many ways. New England will 100% find a way to re-sign him, and it would be a surprise if Van Noy even considers going anywhere else. Everything he’s ever said to the media has been positively glowing about playing for the Patriots under Belichick.
Collins has slid a bit from the public consciousness over the past couple months – not because his play has slipped at all, but just because he’s no longer turning heads by making game-changing plays as frequently as he did back in September. Assuming both sides are still happy with this second marriage between player and team – and why wouldn’t they be? – it’s not crazy to think that the Patriots ink Collins to a short but generous multi-year deal this spring.
The special teams ace has been nothing short of phenomenal during his 12th year in the NFL. Slater has spent his entire professional career playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. If Van Noy is the heart and soul of the New England defense, then Slater is the heart and soul of the Patriots as a team. Assuming the 34-year-old wants to keep playing, the team will likely find a way to keep him around on a deal that doesn’t break the bank.
The only Patriots offensive lineman who hasn’t missed a game this year, Thuney epitomizes consistency and solidarity. He’s not only reliable and injury-averse, he’s also a really darn good football player. The left guard has impressive metrics this season both in pass protection and in run-blocking, and he rarely if ever commits penalties or allows sacks on Brady. New England will need to find a way to keep him a Patriot for as long as they can.
SHOULD BE RE-SIGNED IF BOTH SIDES CAN AGREE:
The versatile linebacker was known in New England as a thumper who specialized in stopping the run before this season. Because of injuries to the Patriots’ two fullbacks this season, James Develin and Jakob Johnson, Roberts is now also known as a two-way player. He’s helped pave the way as a blocking fullback for the Patriots on offense more than any other player, and has easily been the most successful and consistent moonlighting in this capacity for the team. If the two sides can agree on a good number, Roberts should return in 2020.
Every year Dorsett seems to alternate between being the odd man out in the Patriots’ receivers room and being the only reliable option. For stretches of the 2019 season it seemed like it was just Dorsett and Julian Edelman who Brady could rely upon; now it seems like it’s just Edelman alone. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England cut ties with the former first-rounder, but then again, there’s probably not much of a market for him outside of Foxborough either. The most likely option is another one-year deal… especially given all the problems at the receiver position this season.
Ebner has struggled with injuries this year more than he has in years past, but when he’s been healthy, he’s been as effective on special teams as he’s always been. Ebner isn’t really ever needed on defense, but he’s right up there with Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden as a key contributor on special teams. It was Ebner who blocked the punt last Sunday against the Chiefs that turned the game’s momentum around in favor of New England. Expect these two sides to come up with a new deal that keeps the rugby player also playing football for the Pats in 2020.
It was somewhat surprising to see Shelton return to the Patriots this year after he failed to make much of an impact in 2018, his first season with New England. He did come up huge on a run-stuff against C.J. Anderson and the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl 53, however, and he’s built on that moment impressively in 2019. Shelton has been a rock in the middle of the Patriots’ defensive line, and he’d be a great candidate to bring back next year if he’s interested in a third go-around with the Pats.
The best thing that could have possibly happened to Ted Karras happened to Ted Karras this summer. Starting center David Andrews was diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung, and because of this unexpected injury and setback for the team, Karras was thrust into the starting center role Week 1 for New England. Karras actually did a great job subbing in for Andrews all season long until he injured his knee against the Texans in Week 13. He should be back in time for the playoffs – and he should be back as a Patriot in 2020, too, especially now that he’s proven his ability to step up if and when he’s called upon.
Butler’s salary in 2019 is relatively small compared to most of the other starters on the Patriots – he’s making just over half a million. It’s a good number to use as a blueprint for contract negotiations this offseason if he wants to remain with New England, and there’s really no good reason why he shouldn’t. He’s probably not going to command much interest or attention anywhere else, and Belichick seems to like him well enough to keep giving him snaps as a defensive tackle.
Calhoun was projected by many to be a casualty of final roster cutdowns this past summer, so it probably came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of fans and analysts alike when he was brought on the Patriots’ game-day 53-man roster. Especially given the level of talent and depth at linebacker/defensive end this season (Hightower, Collins, Van Noy, Roberts, Winovich, Bentley, Simon), it speaks volumes that Belichick not only wanted Calhoun on this roster, but he also has since given him plenty of opportunities to play during the regular season. Both sides should work out an agreement on a new deal this spring.
Not quite as necessary to the Patriots’ plans as Ted Karras (or David Andrews obviously), Ferentz still should be courted this offseason as the No. 3 option at center for New England. He played well enough last week against Kansas City, and while he’s still clearly the third-best option at the position, it’s an important enough position on an NFL roster that Ferentz should merit new contract consideration for 2020.
Bethel hasn’t made as big of an impact on special teams as many people may have thought he would, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good there. He’s a player who Belichick has admired from a distance for a long, long time… you have to think that Belichick will re-sign him to at least a one-year deal or something, just to give him the opportunity of spending a full camp and offseason in the Patriots system. If he’s still not a special teams standout in 2020, then the team can move on from him in 2021.
CAN PROBABLY BE ALLOWED TO FIND WORK ELSEWHERE:
Folk hasn’t been bad for the Patriots in the limited starts he’s had for the team since being signed to the roster. He just hasn’t been particularly great either. He made some impressive kicks in inclement conditions – particularly in the home game against Dallas – and he’s far and away a better option than either Mike Nugent or Kai Forbath, that’s for sure. Even still, the Patriots presumably won’t need Folk’s services since Stephen Gostkowski will hopefully be back and fully-healed from his season-ending hip surgery. (Here’s hoping at least!)
Newhouse filled in for the injured Isaiah Wynn at left tackle most of this season, and also saw some snaps at right tackle when Marcus Cannon was out with an injury and/or battling the flu bug. The results? Mixed, at best… and horrendous at worst. Newhouse simply wasn’t very good or consistent in most of his opportunities this year, and while he deserves a bit of a reprieve for coming in on such short notice (and missing the entire offseason’s worth of training and practices), he still didn’t show enough as a starter to warrant a second year with the Pats.
Watson has been virtually invisible in his second stint with the Patriots. Clearly no longer the receiving threat he once was as a younger player, Watson would have more value and dimensionality if he was a better run-blocking tight end, but that’s never been one of his strengths as a player. Expect New England to spend a high draft pick on a tight end they can groom for the future, and then for the Patriots to rely on some combination of Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, or a veteran from another team in 2020.
Eluemunor came over via trade from the Ravens when the Patriots were desperately trying to throw bodies at their problems on the offensive line. As you can tell, he didn’t really work out… he’s been given no significant opportunities to play this season, despite all the injuries and ineffectiveness of the offensive line for most of the year. If the O-line is this bad and Eluemunor’s not even being given a chance to stabilize it, why on earth should the team re-sign him in 2020? (They should also sever ties with Korey Cunningham while they’re at it, too.)
If the Patriots think Jarrett Stidham is the long-term answer at quarterback in a post-Brady world, then maybe Kessler sticks around as that third guy who offers veteran insurance at the game’s most important position. Stidham is still young obviously. But if New England feels like they’ve seen enough from Stidham after two offseasons and a few scattered appearances during the regular season this year, then Kessler will likely be allowed to go elsewhere, as the team will likely draft another QB this April and use Stidham as their “veteran” backup.
Davis went undrafted in 2017 before ending up on the Patriots’ injured reserve for his entire rookie season. He played sparingly but still made the team’s 53-man roster in 2018, and once again found his way to IR in 2019. Evidently Belichick sees something in this kid that he likes, but for the rest of us, we’re not really in any kind of fair position to make an honest evaluation. Who knows where he’ll be next year? Maybe with the team, maybe not. Either way, it probably doesn’t impact the team’s fortunes one iota in 2020.