There was an air of concern settling over New England after the Patriots let a number of key players from last season walk in free agency. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was the first, and probably the most surprising. Amendola is close to fellow receiver Julian Edelman and was featured in Tom Brady’s Tom vs. Time documentary. He has also drawn praise from head coach Bill Belichick. But the reality is that the Patriots had asked him to take a pay cut in each of the last three seasons and could no longer afford to keep him. From there, the dominos started to fall.
Estranged cornerback Malcolm Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans and their new head coach, Patriot legend Mike Vrabel. Running back Dion Lewis followed Butler, reaching a four-year deal worth up to $23 million. The big blow came when offensive tackle Nate Solder agreed to a four-year, $62 million deal with the New York Giants. The deal makes him the highest paid tackle in football. It is well documented that the Patriots do not set the market value for players, so when the Giants threw that kind of money on the table, it’s no surprise Belichick let him walk without a fight.
But it didn’t take very long for New England to start making moves of their own. Thus far, it’s clear that Belichick has prioritized the defense after the Patriots allowed 41 points against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. New England traded for Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton and a fifth-round pick in exchange for a third-round pick. The 24-year-old Washington product’s stats don’t jump off the page – 34 tackles, zero sacks last season – but he is an effective run stopper. The Browns allowed 3.9 yards per rush with him on the field, but that number jumped to 4.7 yards per rush without him.
The Patriots then turned to a pass rush that had zero sacks in the Super Bowl. New England agreed to sign defensive end Adrian Clayborn, previously with the Atlanta Falcons. The University of Iowa product is known as a relentless pass rusher. He totaled 9.5 sacks last season, including an utterly dominant six-sack performance against the Dallas Cowboys. Clayborn bolsters an edge rush led by Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise. More pressure on opposing quarterbacks should help the secondary as well.
Another positional need is cornerback. The benching of Malcolm Butler is well documented, but even before that saga, corner depth was an issue. To begin to combat that problem, New England acquired corner Jason McCourty and a seventh-rounder from the Browns for a sixth-round pick. McCourty, the twin of Patriots safety Devin McCourty, will likely slide in opposite Stephon Gilmore. The veteran total three interceptions last season.
With the loss of breakout running back Dion Lewis, the Pats needed to address the backfield. Belichick brought back Rex Burkhead, whose versatility running, receiving, and blocking makes him invaluable to New England. In addition, former Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill agreed to a deal yesterday. Hill opted for ankle surgery in November last season but had at least nine touchdowns in all three of his previous years. Hill and Burkhead join James White and Mike Gillislee in what figures to be a contested battle for playing time alongside Brady in the backfield.
New England also added Matt Tobin, an offensive lineman who has seen time at guard and tackle in Philadelphia and most recently with the Seattle Seahawks. He may not start but will be a nice addition to the line nonetheless. Just this morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that safety Patrick Chung will return to New England on a short-term extension.
After a number of losses in free agency, albeit most of them were not surprises, New England has started retooling for next season. The Patriots thus far have focused on their weaknesses, and figure to continue to do so as the draft approaches.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new New England Patriots article is published, fill out our email notification form.