The New England Patriots are in a precarious position. For the second time in three seasons, they found themselves on the outside looking in on the postseason and just endured a 2022 campaign where it felt like the momentum built during the previous season started to fall back in the wrong direction.
Part of that was the miscalculation by Bill Belichick to slot Matt Patricia in as the offensive play caller, which he has since corrected this offseason by hiring Bill O'Brien as the team's new offensive coordinator. However, a mere change atop the offensive masthead won't be enough to have New England back in true contention in the AFC. They need more talent, specifically top-tier talent.
The Patriots have depth in a lot of areas that you'd want them to have, but the club is missing players that can raise their ceiling at various positions. That need becomes particularly dire when you look across the landscape of the AFC East. The Bills continue to be a legit Super Bowl threat, the Dolphins are a team on the rise with Mike McDaniel at the helm, and the Jets could soon land Aaron Rodgers to put themselves firmly in the Super Bowl conversation. To not be left in the dust, the Patriots will have to make some swings this offseason.
In that vein, we've highlighted five moves that the club should look to make as we look forward to the start of free agency and the NFL Draft.
1. Sign Orlando Brown in free agency
The biggest need for the Patriots this offseason is to beef up the offensive line. The team ranked 26th in the NFL in adjusted sack rate as Mac Jones constantly was under siege and sped up, which likely contributed to his regression last season. While giving Jones higher-end pass-catching weapons would help raise his ceiling (and we'll get to that), allowing him time to throw the football is even more imperative.
So, with the Patriots currently armed with the seventh-most amount of cap space in the NFL this free-agent cycle, the majority of those efforts should be used in the pursuit of the top tackle available -- Orlando Brown. The Chiefs declined to utilize the franchise tag on the 26-year-old tackle, meaning he'll be an unrestricted free agent once the new league year begins. Brown is widely looked at as one of the top tackles in the entire NFL and has been a Pro Bowler for the past four seasons. He's also coming off a Super Bowl LVII victory with Kansas City where his offensive line did not allow a single sack against a top-flight Eagles pass-rushing unit.
Bringing Brown aboard would give New England a superstar left tackle that will make Jones' life much easier in 2023.
2. Use first round pick on offensive tackle
Yes, we are DOUBLING DOWN at the offensive tackle position!
Isaiah Wynn's upcoming free-agent status does create the need for one tackle, but New England can also clear $11 million off of the salary cap by releasing Trent Brown as well. While each has flashed some ability over their tenures, this is hardly a tackle duo that must be retained. Ridding yourself of Trent Brown's contract would free up even more space to make a run at Orlando Brown to solidify the left tackle position, and then we can look toward the NFL Draft to find Wynn's replacement on the right side.
This year's class is full of intriguing offensive tackles including Tennessee's Darnell Wright, who CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson has coming off the board at No. 14 to New England in his latest mock draft. You can certainly make the case for trying to draft a wide receiver at this spot, but New England's lack of success at identifying pass catchers with premium picks at the NFL Draft has me shying away from that route here. The safest play is to double down and create a wall in front of Jones and find some established receiver talent that is already in the league.
3. Trade for DeAndre Hopkins
Mac Jones needs a wide receiver? How about giving him DeAndre Hopkins? The Cardinals have reportedly been shopping the veteran wideout and New England would be a logical trade partner. The Patriots have already been linked to Hopkins for quite a while as Bill Belichick has been on the record noting his admiration for the five-time Pro Bowler.
I mean, look at what the head coach said of Hopkins in early December leading into their Week 14 matchup this past season.
"He's got tremendous ball skills. He catches everything, has great hands, and he's long so he's never covered. Even if he's covered, there's a place where the ball can be that he can get it and still make the catch. Great coordination on the sidelines, and he doesn't really look it but he's a strong kid. You see him break tackles. He's a strong kid in terms of creating separation on routes, yards after contact, you know tough yards like around the goal line or that extra yard for a first down type of thing. He's a very smart football player, very savvy. But his ball skills are at the very elite level with guys that I've seen in this league.
"He's up there with whoever the top guys are, the Cris Carter's of the world and guys like that. He's every bit as good as anybody I've ever coached against."
That glowing review of Hopkins wasn't reserved for just that press conference either. Take a look at their on-field interaction before that Week 14 game at State Farm Stadium.
"I'm glad we only have to play you every four years."— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2022
The respect Bill Belichick has for @DeAndreHopkins 🙌#HardKnocks @AZCardinals -- tonight 10pm ET on @HBOMax pic.twitter.com/ocdqJYsmXb
Needless to say, Belichick loves himself some DeAndre Hopkins. So, now that he's on the block, the head coach could unite himself with a wide receiver he believes to be one of the best ever and help his quarterback reach his highest potential. There's also familiarity between Hopkins and Bill O'Brien during their days in Houston.
It also helps that there is no more guaranteed money remaining on Hopkins' contract, making him a cost-effective acquisition to boot.
4. Sign Jessie Bates in free agency
The Patriots need help in the secondary and if money were no object, it'd make sense for them to add a true No. 1 corner on the outside. Jack Jones showed some promise during his rookie season as did Marcus Jones, who is likely best suited for the slot. Jones will likely have a starting spot on the boundary and continue to develop in Year 2 and Jalen Mills is an underrated piece that should be more than serviceable opposite of him.
The savvier and most Patriots-like move would be to not use their free agent capital on a high-priced corner but instead go with the more cost-effective signing of targeting a high-end safety like Jessie Bates III. That would help strengthen the secondary as a whole and provide New England with an ideal replacement for Devin McCourty, who is still mulling retirement.
Bates has been a pillar to Cincinnati's recent run of success and is coming off a strong 2022 season where opposing quarterbacks averaged a passer rating of just 76.1 when he was the closest man in coverage.
5. Re-sign Jakobi Meyers
The Patriots should take a big swing at a true No. 1 wide receiver this offseason, but that doesn't mean they should not try to retain Jakobi Meyers. Ideally, he is a great No. 2 option in the passing game and Meyers has shown to have a strong rapport with Mac Jones, particularly in key situations. Last season, 18 of Meyers' 22 catches on third down moved the chains. If you slotted in another weapon in the passing game that opposing defenses need to account for, that will only make Meyers more productive.
It's also worth pointing out that he is one of the few receivers that the team has been able to develop in recent years. Given their lack of success in that area, do you really want to let a homegrown talent walk out the door?