The story of this year’s free agency is the loss of Tom Brady. New England will certainly miss Brady, but the Pats will be without a few other key players in the 2020 season as well. ILB Kyle Van Noy signed with the Miami Dolphins, while fellow defensive star player OLB Jamie Collins Sr. signed with the Detroit Lions.
The Patriots lost quite a few players to the Dolphins and Lions as C Ted Karras and OLB Elandon Roberts both signed with Miami, while DT Danny Shelton will join Collins in Detroit. They’ll join S Duron Harmon, who was traded to the Lions in exchange for a swap of late round picks.
Special teams player Nate Ebner also left in free agency to join the New York Giants. It is interesting to note that all of New England’s free agents, minus Brady, left to join former Patriots personnel in Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, and Joe Judge.
In the first week of free agency New England signed six free agents to fill holes on the team. All of these deals have been buy-low options, with the highest deal being a 2 year/$8 Million contract to DT Beau Allen. With limited cap space, Bill Belichick is trying to find some gems that could pay dividends in the 2020 season.
None of these signings will make headlines, but it seems like the goal for Belichick is to decrease cap for the 2021 season so he can make a splash on players then. This certainly will not be a rebuild year for New England, but they will look to reload.
DT Beau Allen – from TB – 2 years/$8 Million
Beau Allen is a run stuffing, 6’3″, 327lb nose tackle. He only played 16% of defensive snaps with Tampa Bay last season, mostly because he is primarily used as a run stuffer and not a pass rusher. With the loss of Danny Shelton to the Lions the Pats needed to find a replacement who’s sole purpose is to stop the run.
Derrick Henry ran for 182 yards in the Wild Card game against New England, so this is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. Allen will give the Pats’ defensive line a strong push, and will most likely draw a double team on run plays to help neutralize the big body, which will draw assignments away from other players.
Beau Allen may not fill the stat sheet as much as Shelton did, but he will make his presence felt in the run game, and will allow his fellow front seven members to play better.
S Adrian Phillips – from LAC – 2 years/$6 Million
One issue for the Patriots is they have been investing a lot of money in players that are solely special teamers. Adrian Phillips is a stellar special teams player, as shown by his Pro-Bowl and first team All-Pro season as a special teamer in 2018. But he can also be the third safety for New England after the trade of Duron Harmon.
In six NFL seasons Phillips has totaled 5 INTs, 18 PDs, 2 FF, and 251 tackles. He will form an elite trio with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and should prove valuable in defending mobile QBs like Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson.
WR Damiere Byrd – from ARI – 1 year/$1.35 Million
In 201, Damiere Byrd went undrafted, but he did run a 4.28 40 yard dash at his South Carolina pro day. Byrd has excellent speed and could be the punt and kick returner for New England in 2020.
Byrd has mostly been a punt returner in his four year career, as he has not been given an opportunity to show his skill at the wide receiver position. He played in 17 games in three years with Carolina, totaling only 12 receptions. He did get more of an opportunity in 2019 with Arizona, where he played in 11 games hauling in 32 receptions.
The former Gamecocks receiver has trouble staying healthy, but this could be an under-the-radar signing that works out well for New England. Byrd will most likely be a punt and kick returner, but McDaniels will certainly find ways to utilize his speed on offense.
QB Brian Hoyer – from IND – 1 year/$1.05 Million
I initially thought the logical move for New England this season would be to trade for Andy Dalton, as most of the QB options had already been scooped up in free agency. My theory hinged on the belief that Belichick was not ready to start Jarrett Stidham at QB, but I was wrong.
The Brian Hoyer signing means that the Patriots are putting their faith in Stidham at QB. Hoyer has spent five seasons with New England as a backup QB, so he is very familiar with Belichick’s system.
I do not believe that Hoyer will be competing for the starting job. He will mentor Stidham and back the second-year QB up. Right now it appears that Stidham will be Tom Brady’s successor, and Hoyer will play a big part in helping Stidham along the way.
OLB Brandon Copeland – from NYJ – 1 year/$1.1 Million
Brandon Copeland is the man that Bill Belichick will task to replace Jamie Collins. He had a down year in 2019, after serving a four game suspension for performance enhancing substances. But he did have a promising 2018 season that included 5 sacks, 8 TFLs, and 14 QB hits. New England will have a steal on their hands if Copeland equals that production in 2020.
Copeland is unlikely to drop into coverage like Collins did, but he should provide a boost in the pass rushing and run stuffing game. He will not fully equal Collins’ production, but he will be a cost-effective version that can still make plays.
FB Dan Vitale from GB
New England does have a contract agreement with Dan Vitale, but the details are not official yet. James Develin’s status is up in the air right now following a neck injury in 2019, so Vitale will be an insurance policy in case Develin cannot play. The Patriots are one of the few teams that still use a FB, so the loss of Develin last season was a major hit on New England’s offense.
Belichick loves to run an I-form offense, and he was limited in that last year without Develin. LB Elandon Roberts transitioned to FB so they could run I-form, but he was clearly not as effective as Develin. The FB plays a vital role in New England, so Vitale can step into that role if Develin is hurt.
Vitale also has experience on special teams, so he can replace Nate Ebner in the punt and kicking game. Ebner only played special teams in New England, while Vitale can also get some offensive snaps, giving him more value.
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