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12 key contributors could be in final days with Patriots

The last week of the regular season means some New England Patriots players could be in their final days with the team.

Many are pending free agents that aren’t likely to be brought back, while others could be let go for other reasons. The Patriots have players on both ends of the spectrum.

They won’t be able to re-sign everyone, even with the lucrative salary cap expectations for the team in 2024. There’s also the possibility of the team hiring a new regime altogether, if they ultimately make the decision to fire coach Bill Belichick.

Serious changes could be on the horizon for the Patriots, and here are 12 players that could be caught up in it at the end of the season:

CB J.C. Jackson

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

J.C. Jackson is technically under contract with the Patriots until 2027, but the team will have to make serious considerations on whether they’re willing to dole out the big money left in the coming years on his contract.

Jackson is slated to make $14.4 million in 2024, which would be a hefty price tag to get him back on the field. There’s also the off-the-field issues to consider.

He was benched as a starter against the Washington Commanders earlier in the season, and he didn’t travel with the team for their international game against the Indianapolis Colts the following week, due to performance issues and reportedly missing curfew. The Patriots recently placed him on the reserve/non-football illness list due to personal issues.

Jackson owned up to his mistakes during the season, but the Patriots might be smarter to move on and use the money to fill other areas on their roster, especially with Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones both expected to return in 2024. None of Jackson’s contract is guaranteed after this season.

OL Trent Brown

Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Brown is on an expiring contract, and he hasn’t given any indication publicly that he would be interested in returning next season. However, he did make cryptic comments about the team after rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham was signed off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Baltimore Ravens.

“Go flourish where your talent is respected lil bradda,” Brown posted to Cunningham on social media.

There was recently a troubling report on Brown that suggested he delayed a return from injury with the belief that he was “protecting himself and his future earnings in a season without the promise of a postseason”.

S Kyle Dugger

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Dugger returning to New England would be a positive for the secondary, but there should be multiple teams vying for his services in the offseason.

It could end up turning into a situation where the Patriots have a price tag in mind, and if another team surpasses that number, they might be willing to move on from their former second-round draft pick.

Dugger isn’t the player the Patriots need to be breaking the bank for in the offseason.

LB Josh Uche

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Uche had flashes of high-end talent in New England, but he never lived up to his full potential in Bill Belichick’s defense.

He isn’t an every-down player for the Patriots, and it’s clear he would benefit more in a defense where he’s able to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback on every play.

There will likely be teams more interested than the Patriots in acquiring Uche’s services.

TE Hunter Henry

Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images
Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Hunter Henry emerged into a true leader for the Patriots on and off the field this season. He’s still an effective playmaker as a receiver, and while he’s never been an elite blocker, he can still get the job done when asked to help out up front.

It would be surprising if the Patriots didn’t make an effort to sign Henry to an extension considering Pharaoh Brown and Mike Gesicki are also playing on expiring contracts.

Drafting a tight end should also be in the cards for the Patriots at an aging position.

WR Kendrick Bourne

Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Kendrick Bourne is on an expiring contract and rehabbing a torn ACL. Before he went down with the knee injury, he was the Patriots’ leading receiver and potentially on the verge of a career-year.

Perhaps the Patriots could bring him back on a one-year deal to help out in a receiving corps that needs all of the playmakers they can get. Bourne has a strong locker room presence, and the fact that it carries over into his production makes him a viable option for New England in 2024.

OL Mike Onwenu

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Mike Onwenu has been everything the Patriots have needed him to be. Last season, he was one of the best offensive guards in the NFL, and this year, he was willing to make the switch to right tackle to help fill one of the weakest positions on the roster.

That kind of versatility is likely to land Onwenu a lucrative deal in free agency. It’s a deal that should come from the Patriots considering all of the other uncertainties on their offensive line.

Onwenu has proven his worth and value to the team for a long-term extension in 2024.

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Keeping Ezekiel Elliott in New England seems like a luxury at this point. Rhamondre Stevenson is still the lead back for the team, and Kevin Harris has shown enough progress to potentially serve as a secondary option.

The Patriots could also choose to draft another running back with third-down capabilities to balance everything out. That path would be much cheaper than keeping Elliott, who has been really good, for another season.

ST Matthew Slater

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Slater is one of the greatest players to ever wear a Patriots uniform. Bill Belichick called him the greatest special teams player of all time. That’s high praise from a legendary figure that has literally coached hundreds of players.

Slater was considering retirement before the season started but opted to come back for another year. With the team currently in a rebuilding state, it feels less likely that Slater will return for another season in 2024.

CB Myles Bryant

Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Myles Bryant has shown significant improvements in his coverage ability this season. He’s also a versatile player that can serve a multitude of roles for the Patriots defense and on special teams.

When players have gone down with injuries, Bryant has stepped in to help fill the void. No, it hasn’t always been perfect, but an argument can also be made that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

Nothing but good things could come from him sticking around in New England for at least a little while longer.

LB Anfernee Jennings

Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Anfernee Jennings was one of the unsung heroes of the defense in 2023. With Matthew Judon out with a torn biceps, Jennings played more snaps and filled in admirably.

There should be hope that he’d get an extension in 2024, especially if the team decides to move on from Josh Uche. Jennings might lack the elite pass-rushing talent, but he’s more versatile than Uche as an every-down player and a better fit in New England’s defense.

Now that he’s finally healthy and getting reps, the arrow is pointing up on the former Alabama standout.

QB Mac Jones

Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The end could be nearing for Patriots’ former first-round draft pick Mac Jones. He’ll be heading into his fourth season on the roster, and he hasn’t done anything to convince the team to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract.

Bailey Zappe has surpassed him as a starter, and the Patriots could be in position to take another quarterback in the 2024 NFL draft. It would make sense for Zappe to be considered the No. 2 option if the team takes a quarterback in the first round.

That could mean the end of Jones in New England. It’s a disappointing end to what initially looked like a promising beginning. Jones went from being a rookie Pro Bowler and franchise face to being benched multiple times and likely on the outs with the Patriots.

When it comes to doling out blame, both sides have to carry the weight. Jones never could step up consistently enough as a playmaker, and the Patriots failed horribly at developing him.

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Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire