By and large, the New England Patriots‘ 2021 season was a success.
Think about it. How many teams would make the playoffs in the second year of a rebuild with a rookie quarterback running the offense? The answer is not many, and that’s a testament to the job Bill Belichick did as a head coach.
While the Patriots were humiliated by Buffalo in the playoffs, that loss could end up being a blessing in disguise. If nothing else, Belichick understands the gap in talent between these rosters and he’ll be motivated to close it. How much work is cut out for the six-time champ this offseason?
Well, it helps that Mac Jones is on a rookie contract. However, six starters are set to hit unrestricted free agency, with two others, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, set to become restricted free agents.
The Patriots will also have to navigate the salary cap. After last offseason’s spending spree — the biggest in franchise history — they have quite a few players who will account for cap hits of $10 million or greater in 2022.
Here are the Patriots’ biggest cap hits for 2022.
This isn’t a great situation for New England. With seven players accounting for cap hits north of $10 million, it’s easy to see why they’re projected to have the 20th-most cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac.
In terms of return on investment, only Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Shaq Mason, and perhaps Davon Godchaux lived up to expectations in 2021.
While Judon faded down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, he was still a revelation for the defense, enjoying a career year with 12.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits.
As for Henry, well, it’s terrifying to think what the Pats’ red zone offense would’ve looked like without the big-bodied tight end. His nine touchdowns ranked 14th among all pass-catchers and tied for first among TEs.
Mason, meanwhile, started 15 games and graded out exceptionally by Pro Football Focus, earning a 86.3 player grade while allowing just one sack, three QB hits and 15 pressures over 955 pass-blocking snaps.
Godchaux didn’t have an every-down role on the defense, but he made his presence felt as he got more acclimated to the system. With him and Christian Barmore gobbling up the defensive interior, the Pats are set at DT.
Now, though, we get to the other guys.
With Wynn, you have the injury history to worry about. The left tackle played the most games of his young career in 2021, but an injury forced him to miss the team’s playoff game. Does that really surprise anyone?
Nelson Agholor, on the other hand, was vastly outperformed by fellow free agent signing Kendrick Bourne, and Jonnu Smith was an afterthought in the passing game, finishing the year with just 28 catches and one touchdown.
It’s not an ideal situation by any means, but with over $17 million in projected cap space, Belichick should be able to make it work. He’s a master when it comes to exploiting salary cap loopholes, so expect some major roster and contract shuffling to commence once the new league year gets underway in March.