A way too early look at the New England Patriots' key free agents in 2024

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Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots / Adam Glanzman/GettyImages

It may still be early in the offseason, but it's never too early to look ahead to the list of players that will hit free agency next year for the Patriots, especially when several vital pieces will be hoping for a new contract.

The Patriots are not known for being big spenders, and Bill Belichick has earned a reputation of letting top talent walk and sign with other teams repeatedly, which is more likely to happen than not next year as well.

However, because New England is projected to have a healthy amount of cap space to spend and many highly-productive players set to become free agents, finally spending the money to keep them in Foxboro should become the most crucial objective of the offseason.

Wide receivers:

  • Kendrick Bourne
  • Ty Montgomery

As it stands, between Kendrick Bourne and Ty Montgomery, the obvious choice is to re-sign Bourne. But his position on the team appears to be a bit murky at the moment.

Last week, the Patriots announced the contract extension of DeVante Parker, who was presumed to be the odd-man out when discussing the potential future if DeAndre Hopkins is indeed signed this offseason. However, as the leading pass-catcher of 50/50 balls and now just the second receiver signed for next season, Belichick is clearly impressed enough with what he's done so far and prioritized keeping Parker around by signing him to an extension early.

That decision now puts Bourne's spot on the roster in jeopardy, with a lot of proving this summer to demonstrate exactly why he is needed on the team long-term.

Kendrick Bourne

Like some of his teammates who joined the Patriots in 2021, his first season was impressive. But it fell off the following year with much speculation regarding why. It's primarily believed to be the result of a rift between Bourne and Matt Patricia, the new offensive coordinator for the season, which essentially caused the coach to punish Bourne for it.

The receiver also revealed he didn't give his best effort last year and vowed not to allow that to happen this upcoming season. But is it too late for that?

Patricia is gone now, which is a plus for many reasons, but that leaves Bourne to redeem himself if he wants to decrease the chances of being cut or traded and even re-signed next year.

Ty Montgomery

As far as Montgomery goes, an early injury became season-ending last year, which limited seeing how good of a fit he was for the team.

A year later, however, Bill Belichick has expressed his glowing review of the dual-threat player, who is set to resume his position as the offenses gadget guy.

If he can become what he was expected to be for the Patriots initially, it would be a good decision to keep him around for longer than the 2023 season.

Tight ends:

  • Hunter Henry
  • Mike Gesicki

Because we are yet to see Mike Gesicki fully integrated into the Patriots' offense, it's hard to assess the importance of him being re-signed or not. But we do know the impact that Hunter Henry can have on the team, especially when looking at his first season in New England, and recognize that retaining him should be a priority.

Although he has remained healthy (mostly) during his two years in Foxboro, a significant decline in production last year impacted the offense all season long. He ended the 2021 season with 50 receptions for 603 yards and nine touchdowns, becoming Mac Jones' go-to target in the red zone especially. But much of that changed last season when he totaled 41 receptions for 509 yards and just two touchdowns.

Whether the struggles from Matt Patricia's influence and Jones' decline in quarterback play had anything to do with Henry's fall is difficult to say. It seems fair to assume it did, as it clearly impacted several players on the offense all year long.

If he can get back to how vital he was in 2021, it would be an easy decision to re-sign him, but on a cheaper contract probably.

Offensive line:

  • Trent Brown
  • Michael Onwenu

As one of the weakest parts of the offense and the Patriots' team overall, watching any productive offensive lineman leave in free agency would be a mistake.

Trent Brown

Normally, it would be fairly easy to proclaim Trent Brown as an untradeable player on the Patriots roster, or one that should obviously receive a contract extension. But his performance last season coupled with his apparent unclear absence from minicamp last month make you wonder if he will even remain on the team for this season.

Although he has been a prominent fixture on the line during his two stints in New England, he allowed the most sacks (9) and the most hits (10) to the quarterback of all the lineman through last year and added nine untimely penalties on top of that.

Despite his struggles, which included dealing with a nagging injury and prolonged illness, he wasn't the primary issue on the line; that title would be given to now Miami Dolphins' player Isaiah Wynn. But the things he was dealing with off the field unfortunately impacted his performance on the field, thus creating many issues for the offense as a whole and especially Mac Jones.

His future may be uncertain at this point, but when Brown is focused and ready to go, he is consistently one of the better players on the line. If that's the type of performance he can have during the 2023 season, there's no reason to let a trusted veteran walk in free agency.

Michael Onwenu

Of all the key players hitting free agency next year, Michael Onwenu is one that should be at the top of the list to prioritize.

Since being drafted in 2020, Onwenu has become one of the most reliable and consistent pieces on the line. He's shown to be a versatile player, lining up on both the right and left sides of the line and playing at guard.

In his third season in 2022, though, is when Onwenu's performance started to turn more heads around the league.

Playing most of the season at right guard, he only allowed one quarterback hit the entire season, and his first allowed sack didn't happen until week 17 against the Miami Dolphins. On top of that, and maybe not considered all that significant to most, Onwenu also only received two penalties all season long, something fellow linemen Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn cannot say about themselves.

Although Belichick prioritized drafting pieces for the line in this year's draft, re-signing Onwenu is a no-brainer next season. At just 25 years old, he has plenty left in the tank to remain one of the best at the position in the league, and his consistency proves he can be precisely the type of player the team needs moving forward.


  • Kyle Dugger
  • Jalen Mills
  • Josh Uche

Some of the most important players to hit free agency next year are on the defense, making it even more vital that Belichick retains them to keep up with the dominant defense he has built over the last few years.

Two homegrown talents are set to become free agents, Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche, and both have worked their way to becoming essential parts of the defense's success.

Kyle Dugger

Expectations weren't high for Dugger when the Patriots drafted him in 2020, primarily because he came out of a Division II school and was already 24 years old.

He started slow during his rookie season, but the following year he kicked it into high gear and showed why he was the right choice nabbing four interceptions returned for 100 yards with five passes defended and 92 combined tackles.

Dugger's production continued in 2022, as he became more of a leader on the field, totaling three interceptions returned for 55 yards and two touchdowns. On top of that, he added eight passes defended, a fumble recovery returned 59 yards for a touchdown, and five tackles for a loss.

Belichick made him the guy to cover opposing tight ends, which was a massive help overall because the defense consistently struggled to cover and slow down tight ends across the league.

Re-signing Dugger is an absolute must at this point, and he will almost certainly prove that even more this upcoming season.

Jalen Mills

The last two seasons in New England haven't always been the best for Jalen Mills, but he most definitely improved from what we did see of him last season and is expected to be even better in 2023.

Since it was announced that Mills would be moving to safety after Devin McCourty's retirement, gauging whether or not he should be an absolute re-signing isn't easy, as we are yet to see him play an entire season at that position as a Patriot.

Much of how he performs throughout the year will dictate if he receives another contract offer, especially since the cornerback roster is beginning to get full with the addition of Christian Gonzalez and the impending rises of Jack and Marcus Jones.

Becoming a formidable safety will be Mills' best chance of remaining with the Patriots in 2024 and beyond.

Josh Uche

Uche has also worked to be a priority re-signing, accomplishing the best season of his career in 2022.

Working alongside and learning from veteran and pass-rushing extraordinaire Matthew Judon has appeared to be one of the best things for Uche's career. His sophomore season in 2021 was good but not exactly noteworthy, and some began to question his future on the team, especially after fellow linebacker Chase Winovich had been traded before last season.

The first half of the 2022 season began similarly to the previous two for Uche, but once he returned in week eight against the Jets, we finally saw a side of him unleashed, becoming the go-to guy in getting to the quarterback after Judon.

From there on, he totaled 11.5 sacks in eight games, a significant jump from the three sacks he ended the previous season with, and also finished the year with a career-high 27 combined tackles, 14 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles, all of which was impressive.

If he can repeat or even build upon what he did last season, there's no reason for Belichick to let Uche sign with another team.

Special Teams:

  • Cody Davis
  • Nick Folk
  • Matthew Slater

As the Patriots attempt to get their special teams back on track, it's hard to imagine any of these three names not remaining with the team past the 2023 season.

Although that may be true, it seems Nick Folk and Matthew Slater will likely not be back after this upcoming season concludes.

Nick Folk

Special teams was a priority in the draft earlier this year, as New England drafted a kicker and a punter, both of which were ranked as the best of the class.

Those picks immediately put Folk's position on the team at the most risk, on top of the fact that he will be turning 39 during the season and missed some much-needed field goals last year.

It's possible those misses were not an indication of a decline in performance but more of just a part of any kicker's season. But given his age and the increase in misses from one season before, it's also possible he's close to the end of his career.

Matthew Slater

Regarding Slater, the special teams' captain has reportedly contemplated retirement for a handful of seasons now. After taking time to decide for the 2023 season, the choice to come back made it seem like this will be the final one of his career.

Because of that, even if the Patriots would want to re-sign him, which is almost sure they would, it's evident that they won't have a decision in the matter if he chooses to retire.

Cody Davis

Cody Davis could find himself in a similar situation, entering the 2023 season at 34 years old after missing most of last year due to a season-ending injury in week six.

Although he has become a pillar of the special teams, it's clear from Belichick's recent moves in the draft that the team hopes to add younger talent to the unit, likely to replace guys like Davis and Slater.

If that rings true, Davis will probably not return next season.