Grading the Patriots’ Moves in March
New England fans and media seem split on the progress their team has made since the new league year began. The team finished 8-9 in 2022, missing out on the playoffs for the second time in three years and causing fans – and perhaps even ownership – to feel increasingly uneasy about the Patriots’ future.
So, have their moves thus far moved the needle enough to make Foxborough a playoff destination once again? Some would say yes (albeit not with the same enthusiasm had the Patriots grabbed a legitimate number one receiver or signed one of the top tackles on the market), while others would vehemently disagree, claiming the moves the team has made are lateral at best.
In chronological order, let’s look at all the Patriots transactions in March and see just how much this team has evolved in the past month. (Please note that the restructuring of Jalen Mills’ contract will not be featured, as this article will only cover signings and releases.)
March 9: IOL James Ferentz re-signs for 1-year, $1.215MM (200k total guaranteed)
A move that occurred just before the new league year started, Ferentz has played five years in New England after spending his first two NFL seasons in Denver as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 12 games in 2022, filling in for three starts. Ferentz represents a veteran depth option on the interior offensive line.
It is far from the splashiest of moves, but the center/guard has a very real role on a cheap deal for the Patriots as they wait for Chasen Hines and Kody Russey to develop and eventually take on the backup interior duties.
March 10: P Jake Bailey is released ($2.4MM cap hit in 2023, 805k in savings)
If you were told Jake Bailey was not a part of the team’s future after his all-pro second season, it would be a surprise. But given how the last two seasons have played out with performance issues, injuries, and a peculiar suspension related to disagreements around Bailey’s rehab process, it was no surprise to see the team and player part ways.
Bailey spent most of 2022 injured, and when he was playing, it was not good. The hefty contract (relative to a punter) signed last August – and the subsequent cap hit – makes this release sting a lot more.
March 10: LB Raekwon McMillan re-signs for 1-year, $1.6MM (575k total guaranteed)
McMillan returns to the Patriots after a brief stint in 2022 that saw him enter mid-season after recovering from an ACL tear. The former second-round pick was inconsistent last year, but the Patriots re-signing him shows they have the belief that he can fully recover from his injury and produce at a backup or spot-starter level. For the time being, this is a depth signing that helps fill out the linebacker group and should not be seen as much more than that.
March 13: DL/NT Carl Davis re-signs for 1-year, $1.138MM ($250k total guaranteed)
Davis returns to Foxborough for his eighth year in the NFL and fourth year with the team. The 6’5”, 320-pound defensive tackle has primarily played nose tackle, backing up starter Davon Godchaux and appearing in limited snaps.
As evident by the contract, Davis should not be seen as anything more than depth for Godchaux, allowing flexibility for New England’s defensive line and playing some snaps in obvious run situations. While not moving the needle, the signing is a necessary one as the Patriots bring back a player familiar with the system.
March 14: CB Myles Bryant re-signs a tendered contract for 1-year, $2.627MM
The Patriots tendered Myles Bryant to right of first refusal, retaining the depth corner who played fairly significant snaps in 2022. Bryant is the kind of player Belichick loves: intelligent, versatile, and bought into the “Patriot Way.”
His intangibles have kept him in the league, but his physical limitations will always cap his ability to execute at a high level. For a player of his caliber, this represents a fair deal for both sides and keeps the door open to a longer-term extension down the road if Bryant’s play improves in 2023.
March 15: CB Jonathan Jones re-signs for two years, $19MM ($13MM total guaranteed)
Perhaps the biggest move of the Patriots’ offseason was retaining cornerback Jonathan Jones. The speedy UDFA out of Auburn moved from slot to boundary in 2022 and took over as New England’s top corner. Jones performed well and certainly above expectations, especially early in the season.
He may not be an ideal number-one option at the position, but the veteran knows the Patriots system well and has the speed to match up with any receiver in the NFL. His terms were acclaimed by fans and media alike and marked a rare third contract with the team.
March 15: OT Calvin Anderson signs for 2 years, $7MM ($4MM total guaranteed)
Originally signed by New England as a UDFA in 2019, Anderson played three seasons in Denver as their swing tackle and performed admirably in his role. The Patriots signed him to a higher-end backup tackle contract, with athletic traits that could be developed by new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to take Anderson to the next level as a low-to-mid-tier starting tackle.
Despite going undrafted, Anderson tested very well at his pro day with a relative athletic score of 8.70 (only his size and weight lagged his draft-class peers). Don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a serious candidate for one of the starting tackle spots in 2024.
March 15: OT Riley Reiff signs for 1-year, $5MM ($4.150MM total guaranteed)
Reiff is a 34-year-old veteran tackle who has had decent production and demonstrated exceptional durability throughout his 11-year career. His contract likely slots him as the starting right tackle in 2023, pending the development of Anderson and what the Patriots do in the draft.
It was somewhat surprising to see Reiff brought on after Conor McDermott re-signed and Anderson was added, but given the unreliability of New England’s offensive line last year, the stabilizing presence of Reiff will add experience and is a culture fit. At his age, he is no longer a desirable starting tackle but a fine one-year stopgap with options behind him to compete for the spot.
March 15: WR Juju Smith-Schuster signs for 3 years, $25.5MM ($16MM total guaranteed)
A welcomed signing after losing receiver Jakobi Meyers, Smith-Schuster is a slight improvement in the slot, especially with his YAC ability. He signed a more team-friendly deal than Meyers with incentives that could bring him to Meyer’s full contract value. Fair or not, both receivers’ production will be scrutinized and frequently compared to one another throughout the duration of their deals.
New England should be excited to have signed one of, if not the most, dynamic receivers they have had since Brandin Cooks. Smith-Schuster is not what he was prior to his injury troubles, but can still produce 80+ receptions and 900+ yards in a given year. As of writing, he is the number one receiving option on the Patriots entering 2023.
March 15: OT Yodny Cajuste re-signs a tendered contract for 1-year, $2.743MM
A former third-round pick, Cajuste has generally disappointed in his Patriots tenure. Considered somewhat of a steal at his draft position, the big offensive tackle has played limited snaps in New England since being brought on board in 2019, with middling production and injury troubles along the way.
This signing is fine from a value standpoint, representing a minuscule hit to the cap, but do not expect to see Cajuste thrust into a meaningful role in 2023 without significant health issues along the offensive line.
March 16: LB Mack Wilson re-signs for 1-year, $1.6MM ($575k total guaranteed)
Another Patriots free agent brought back to the team, Wilson’s signing rounds out the position group as the team returns all linebackers with significant snaps from 2022. The former Alabama product served as a depth piece with up-and-down results, and his contract (without considering incentives) is identical to the one Raekwon McMillan signed a week prior. While nice to keep last year’s linebacker group intact, do not expect Wilson to play much despite carving out a limited role here in Foxborough.
March 16: QB Brian Hoyer is released
The Patriots said goodbye to their long-time backup quarterback following his third stint with the team. Hoyer served as the third-string quarterback and quasi-coach in 2022, seeing action in one game. He earned a ring in 2018 and will be well remembered for his multiple Patriots tenures, despite reports that his final act with the team may have ended poorly, with reports stating that he openly (and justifiably) questioned the direction of the offense.
He landed with the Raiders on a two-year deal, reuniting with former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. New England will receive a $1.4MM credit to the 2024 cap because of his signing with Las Vegas.
March 16: LS Joe Cardona re-signs for four years, $6.3MM ($2.6MM total guaranteed)
Cardona’s name should be recognized by any New England fan. The former Navy lineman and long snapper arrived in Foxborough as a fifth-round in 2015 and proceeded to start 140 consecutive games (including playoffs) before his streak was finally snapped last season by a torn tendon in his foot.
Cardona represents stability at a slightly steeper price than most fans would likely care for, but his consistency, experience, and familiarity with the team is certainly a positive move for the Patriots.
March 17: DT Daniel Ekuale re-signs for two years, $3.4MM ($1MM total guaranteed)
Yet another 2022 Patriots depth player brought back for next season, Ekuale appeared in 15 games for New England after serving a two-game suspension, playing a rotational role on the defensive line. His production was fine, and at age 29, there should not be any expectations for additional development to his game. He is a versatile piece on a defensive line that should be even stronger in 2023, and his contract is very affordable.
March 17: TE Mike Gesicki signs for one year, $4.5MM ($3.55M total guaranteed)
Gesicki signed an incentive-laden contract following a down year with Mike McDaniel’s new system in Miami. He is an unwilling blocker but an excellent playmaker with a strong track record when used correctly. The 6’6”, 250-pound tight end has two 700-yard seasons under his belt and is familiar with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who recruited him at Penn State.
Gesicki projects as a starter alongside fellow tight end Hunter Henry in an offense that should feature more 12 personnel to leverage their bigger-body receivers. His contract is extremely team-friendly, and his presence is a big upgrade from Jonnu Smith for an offense that struggled mightily last season.
March 17: LB Chris Board signs for two years, $5MM ($2.6M total guaranteed)
It is no secret that special teams were a disaster for the 2022 Patriots. Chris Board, who head coach Bill Belichick once dubbed as the best special teams player New England would face all season, was brought aboard to help the struggling unit. Listed as a linebacker, Board will almost certainly see the majority of his snaps on special teams, where he brings his sure tackling skills to the kicking and punt groups.
The financial terms are not significant, but the signing does seem like a classic Belichick play to pay slightly above the market to get his guy. Expect Board to make an impact next season and help turn the special teams unit around in 2023.
March 17: S Jabrill Peppers re-signs for two years, $9MM ($6M total guaranteed)
The Patriots brought in Peppers last season following solid but unspectacular play after being selected in the first round by Cleveland in 2017. Peppers rewarded their faith with a very good performance as a versatile chess piece in the defensive backfield. Still only 27 years old, Peppers is on an upward trajectory, and expectations for his continued development under the Patriots elite defensive coaching staff should be high.
He should see his snaps increase and could finally meet or even exceed his lofty projections when he came out of Michigan as a highly touted prospect. The contract is good from a team standpoint, and this signing looks like a slam dunk for both sides.
March 17: RB James Robinson signs for two years, $4MM
The Patriots chose to let running back Damien Harris test free agency after an injury-filled season. While he pursued offers, the team signed former UDFA Robinson to fill his spot. Robinson took the league by storm during his rookie season with the Jaguars, rushing for 1,040 yards and 7 touchdowns in only 14 games. He had an equally impressive second year despite losing carries but, unfortunately, tore his ACL late in the season.
He made a comeback last year and did not look as explosive, which is to be expected coming back within a year of such a severe injury. The Patriots are betting on his ability to fully recover and contribute to both the power rushing game and passing attack, similar to the role Rex Burkhead played in the latter years of the dynasty.
March 18: FS/ST Cody Davis re-signs for 1-year, $2.2MM (500k total guaranteed)
Long-time Patriots captain Devin McCourty broke his first news of retirement, announcing that special teamer Cody Davis was returning to New England on a one-year deal. Davis went down with a knee injury early in 2022 and did not return for the rest of the year.
His absence, at least in part, was felt by the special teams unit, who finished last in the league in DVOA. Davis is another typical Belichick move, retaining an intelligent, veteran player familiar with the Patriots system. He will turn 34 before the 2023 season starts, so his recovery from surgery will be something to watch for.
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