Who should the Patriots' number 1 free agent target be?  

Washington Commanders v Seattle Seahawks
Washington Commanders v Seattle Seahawks / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

As the famous nonagenarian Warren Buffett once said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” If old Warren was an NFL GM, he’d definitely have some questions about Jerod Mayo’s plan to “Burn some cash” in free agency.

But he'd be fully on board with it, provided the Patriots spend the money on players who can provide value.

And the player who would add the most value to the Patriots in this free-agency window is Leonard Williams. The former Giant and Seahawk is 29 years old and won’t be cheap. But his unique combination of skill and power makes him worth every dollar. 

Williams has recorded 26 sacks since 2020. The Patriots’ entire defensive line has only made 60 in the same period. And Deatrich Wise Jr. has 17.5 of those sacks. Williams and Wise Jr. would be a destructive pairing. 

It’s not just the Patriots’ defensive line that has struggled to sack quarterbacks; it's the whole defense. Despite generating pressure on 20.7% of their defensive snaps in 2023, the Patriots defense only recorded 36 sacks. That was 27th in the league and 12 fewer than the next-best AFC East team, the Jets. 

The Bills and Dolphins ended the 2023 regular season in the top ten offenses when throwing touchdown passes. The Dolphins were 4th with 30, and the Bills ranked seventh with 29. Both of them ranked in the top four for passing yards, too.

Miami ended the season at the top of the NFL, 49 yards ahead of the 49ers (oddly enough). Unsurprisingly, they both ended the season in the top five when protecting their respective quarterbacks, too.

The Buffalo allowed 24 sacks compared to the Dolphins' 31 during the regular season. Even the Jets' passing offense could significantly improve if Aaron Rodgers could stay healthy. There's no guarantee it will, but it can’t be any worse. 

But it's not just pass rush that Williams brings to a defense. He’s also recorded 34 tackles for a loss since 2020. Even Deatrich Wise Jr. Has only recorded 16 since 2020. 

The 3.3 yards per rushing attempt the Patriots allowed was the lowest in the league last season. But the 14 touchdowns they conceded on the ground were the eighth most. So, there’s a need to improve the run defense in the red zone.  

The Dolphins’ Raheem Mostert led the league for rushing touchdowns, and the Bills’ Josh Allen was third in that category at the end of the regular season. And unsurprisingly, as a team, the Dolphins led the league in rushing touchdowns. And the Bills were fifth. The Jets were actually last with just seven. But remember, they can’t get worse. Right?  

While the Patriots' defense was the best part of the team in 2023 after Christian Gonzalez and Matt Judon suffered injuries, they did lack star power. Defensive linemen might not be the most glamorous stars in the NFL.

But Williams would add serious value to a very skillful defensive unit. He won’t come cheap; his last contract paid him an average salary of $21 million! But if the Patriots are going to flash the cash in free agency (and they have $78 million to flash) they can't afford not to sign him. 

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