Patriots free agency signings (or lack thereof) highlight draft needs even more

Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17), wide
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17), wide / Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Famously terrible human Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the begin again, this time more intelligently.” Well, the Patriots successfully completed the failure part of that plan last season, but they seem to be struggling with the beginning again more intelligently part.

Firing a coach who has won 333 NFL games may not have been very intelligent; only time will tell. But if they haven’t even named a GM to replace Belichick, if you visit the team's official website, the only person who works in the front office is Matt Groh (the Director of Player Personnel, apparently). Maybe they don’t have an IT department either?  

The "de facto" GM is Eliot Wolf, whose official title is "Director of Scouting," but many believe this offseason is his audition to become the permanent GM.

So, that’s the shambolic front office "changes" covered, but has Matt Groh actually improved the player personnel? In short, not really. It’s still a team devoid of attention-grabbing superstars. That might mean that Jerod Mayo is all about the power of the team over the talent of individuals. But as admirable as that might be, it won’t win many games in the NFL.  

Patriots free agency signings (or lack thereof) highlight draft needs even more

They have bought in nine completely perfunctory players from other teams and re-signed four of the 2023 roster. This suggests the new management group is happy with the overall talent level. Let’s delve a little deeper into the new arrivals. 

Well, Jacoby Brissett isn’t technically a “new” face; he was in Foxborough in 2016, the year after Mayo retired. He currently has a 1-1 record as a Patriots QB, better than Mac Jones then. Brissett is joined by his former Commanders teammate Antonio Gibson.

Presumably, he will fill the role played by Ezekiel Elliott in 2023 and is three years younger than Elliott. They both average 4.8 yards per touch, too, but Gibson has 29 career touchdowns compared to Elliott’s 85! Elliott earned $3 million in 2023, and Gibson is due to earn $3.75 million every year in his three-year deal.

So, while it’s not necessarily a bad signing, it does seem an odd one. But it does mean they don’t have to draft a running back. They had four on the roster before his signing, though. They probably wouldn’t have drafted one anyway. 

Chukwuma Okorafor played well for the Steelers in 2023 and is one of the new breed of offensive tackles. He is 50 lbs. lighter than Trent Brown, so he should be a bit more mobile. But he said some things that upset the Steelers hierarchy after a loss to Jacksonville, so he’s definitely fiery.

It’s an interesting signing because Okorafor and Mike Onwenu (who the Patriots re-signed) are primarily right tackles (although Onwenu can play as a guard). Either one of them will have to play out of position, or the Patriots will still have to draft a left tackle. 

They’ve also signed Nick Leverett to add some depth to the offensive line. The former Buccaneer only started ten games in three seasons in Tampa Bay, all of which came in 2022, when the team finished 8-9. It’s not the worst signing, but he only played four snaps for the Buccaneers last year, and they were all on special teams.

He still managed to draw a penalty flag, though. With so many dynamic guards available in the draft, it would have been nice to see them take one in the sixth or seventh round. But they have six (if you include Onwenu) now, so they probably won’t. 

The only other two new faces on the offense in 2024 are Austin Hooper, a very good tight end who will be a more than adequate replacement for Mike Gesicki. Gesicki never really found his feet in Bill O'Brien's New England offense (not many did). The Patriots have also signed K.J. Osborn, who is a real head-scratcher. The Patriots already had plenty of WR2s; they just lack a real number 1. 

Outside the offensive woes in 2023, the Patriots' major problem was the lack of pass rush after Matt Judon suffered his injury. And they’ve done nothing to correct that. The three new faces on the defense have 13 career sacks between them. The players who are no longer on the roster had 27 career sacks between them, and that's a worry.  

So far, the Patriots’ free agency window hasn’t really altered what they need in the draft. It does mean that they’re not as desperate for a starting quarterback as they were when they traded away Mac Jones.

But they certainly haven’t burned as much cash as they promised. The K.J. Osborn signing (alongside the $51 million in cap space) does look a lot like they're laying the groundwork for a Justin Jefferson trade. They are dance partners, after all. 

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