The New England Patriots are fresh off finishing 10-7 and punching their first playoff ticket since Tom Brady’s final season in 2019.
With Mac Jones performing better than any other rookie quarterback in his class, a stout offensive line, and Bill Belichick presiding over a defense that, despite having some holes, has a handful of pieces to build around, the future in Foxborough is bright.
How bright, though, is the million-dollar question. With several roster deficiencies to address in order to join the growing group of contenders in the AFC, New England has just $7.328 million in cap space to work with.
This isn’t to say the sky is falling, but you’d be hard-pressed to look at the current state of the Patriots and not attribute blame to Belichick and the front office for coming up short in the draft, free agency and the trade front from 2017-2020.
The Patriots’ costly draft and personnel decisions from 2017-2020 has led to this troubling offseason.
A team that’s backed into signing players for the veteran minimum should be on the cusp of competing for a championship.
The Patriots, though, have burning question marks at wide receiver, defensive end (Matt Judon can’t do everything by himself), linebacker, cornerback, and right tackle and left guard with Trent Brown and Ted Karras hitting free agency.
Can they salvage some cap room by cutting a few players? No doubt, but that probably means parting ways with pretty notable contributors. In turn, that would only exasperate another vital flaw of the roster: a lack of depth.
In a recent article, we floated three players — Jonathan Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Lawrence Guy — as the potential odd men out if the Patriots choose to get their hands dirty and cut players to free up extra cap space.
On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. However, Jones is the team’s top slot cornerback, Van Noy did a little bit of everything (and then some) in 2021, and Guy is a grizzled vet whose work in the trenches largely goes unnoticed.
Would salvaging over $10 million in cap room be worth further gutting the depth on the roster? It’d be a different conversation had New England nailed the draft from 2017-2020. That, unfortunately, is nowhere near the case.
During that span, the front office had 33 picks at their disposal. Of those selections, we can only name Deatrich Wise Jr., Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu who’ve evolved into legitimate starters … and most of them come with caveats!
Wise’s production has tailed off in recent years, Isaiah Wynn has major health concerns, Michel was really only good as a rookie and got traded before the 2021 season and Bentley, a free agent, didn’t become a full-time starter until 2020 and he was pretty much forced into that role after Dont’a Hightower opted out.
You see the problem? Thirty-three picks in a three-year span and Dugger and Onwenu might be the only players with long-term futures in New England.
Hopefully Belichick has a few tricks up his sleeve, because right now it’s hard to envision the roster getting much better this offseason. The worst part is Belichick and the rest of the front office only have themselves to blame.