Plenty of household names still available, but do any make sense for the Patriots?

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Curran: Who should the Patriots consider from the current crop of free agents? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The big player-acquisition periods of the 2022 NFL season are over. We’re through free agency. We’re through second wave free agency. We’re through the draft.

Over the next few weeks, teams will scrutinize their mix of players and project, project, project. If there was a game on Sunday, what would their depth chart look like? Where are they light? Where could they add players who’ve been passed over to come in as projects or as competition?

A perfect example of the Patriots playing the field shrewdly was in 2020.

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In late June, the Patriots looked at their quarterback depth chart of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Then they looked at the available quarterbacks and figured, "Hey, Cam Newton's still out there. Former MVP. Gave us fits every time we played him. What do we have to lose in seeing whether he’d come here and compete? His situation's a lot different now than when free agency started. Maybe he'll come in on a one-year deal."

And he did. A one-year, incentive-laden deal worth $14M. He easily beat out Stidham for the starting job and he most certainly had his moments early in the year.

Yeah, he had his limitations. And they showed up increasingly as the year wore on. But as a band-aid for a talent-strapped team, Newton’s presence kept the Patriots afloat for a big chunk of that bridge year. He kept things light, took all the slings-and-arrows, played hard, sacrificed his body and kept the Patriots from having to go to either Stidham or Hoyer.

He ultimately made $3.75M starting 15 games, throwing eight touchdowns and 10 picks while running for another 12 touchdowns. All for less than $4M.

He was human Flex-Seal for a team that needed it in the first year A.B. (after Brady).

Another post-draft add of note? Malcolm Butler. Hauled in for a tryout in the spring of 2014, he immediately made an impression, the Patriots signed him and nine months later made the most dramatic play in Super Bowl history.

Will the Patriots find a diamond in the rough like Butler or a handy stopgap like Newton? That boils down to two things. First, where do the Patriots believe they are light? Second, who’s out there?

Offensively, they have plenty at running back, quarterback and wide receiver. Depending on how they view 2020 third-round picks Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi -- who've done precious little since arriving -- tight end could be a spot they'd add. They need offensive line depth at tackle because their front-line starters -- Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn -- are oft-injured. They may look for experienced guard depth with first-round rookie Cole Strange just coming aboard at right guard.

Defensively, they’re well-stocked at safety and on the interior defensive line. Edge might be a consideration, though the hoped-for development of Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins may have them feeling comfortable. Linebacker is confusing because they have a fleet of players but so many of them are coming off injuries (Raekwon McMillan), are inexperienced (Anfernee Jennings), are new to the team (Mack Wilson) or a combination of all three (Cam McGrone) that those players need reps to show what they're capable of. The situation at corner is similar.

Plenty of recognizable names remain available. Especially at wide receiver. But adding to the geometry is the Patriots current cap situation. The Patriots have less than $1M in cap space and still have to sign their rookie class. Restructures and possible releases are necessary for them to get right financially before they can think about adding.

Plenty of recognizable names remain available. Especially at wide receiver. But adding to the geometry is the Patriots' current cap situation. The Patriots have less than $1M in cap space and still have to sign their rookie class. Restructures and possible releases are necessary for them to get right financially before they can think about adding.

The best way to clear cap in one fell swoop would be trading Nelson Aghlolor. He’s got a $15M cap hit. If the Patriots can deal him, his $9M salary is off the books and the team will carry just $5M in dead money. It may be hard to get a taker for him at that hefty price which the Patriots anteed up in 2021 because they desperately needed wideouts. Releasing him means the Patriots will save about $5M and still carry a $10M cap hit. That’s less appealing. Of course, paying Agholor $9M and carrying a $15M cap hit if he's going to be a bit player may be the least appealing part of the equation.

Let's suppose the Patriots do clear enough space to add some players on incentive-laden deals. Here are some of the league's better players who remain single and maybe ready to mingle.

Edge/Defensive line

Jadeveon Clowney, 29 -- Had a very good year with Cleveland (nine sacks, 19 QB hits in 14 games) but he’ll be expensive.

Akiem Hicks, 32 -- Was with the Patriots in 2015 coming aboard in a trade for Michael Hoomanawanui. Played great. Signed a big deal with the Bears. Seven years later, he could still be a factor on the interior but he's dealt with injuries each of the past three seasons.

Justin Houston, 33 -- Pure pass rusher who started 15 games on a low-budget deal with Baltimore.

Jerry Hughes, 34 -- A long-time fixture with the Bills who's coming off a modest season statistically (two sacks, seven QB hits), Hughes was a pain in the Patriots ass for a long time and he still can bring sizable pressure.

Trey Flowers, 29 -- A reunion with the former Patriot still seems to make sense. He couldn’t stay healthy for the Lions but if he still has gas left and was willing to come on a modest deal, Flowers would be a very unsurprising addition to the Patriots front.

Carl Nassib, 29 -- A cap casualty in Las Vegas who’s production skidded with the Raiders after signing a sizable deal in 2020, Nassib’s a smart, once-productive player who plays plenty of special teams and could be a rotational player.

Wide receiver

Odell Beckham, 29 -- Coming back from the ACL he tore in the Super Bowl, Beckham was pursued by the Patriots before going to the Rams. The wideout room is full but Beckham showed in L.A. that he can be a major factor in an offense still.

Jarvis Landry, 29 -- Tough and productive slot who had a down year (for him) with Cleveland, catching 52 balls for 570 yards and missing five games. Not sure how much better he is at this stage than Jakobi Meyers, but he’s a high-level competitor and a five-time Pro Bowl player who was over 80 catches in each of his first six seasons.

Offensive line

Duane Brown, 37 -- A Pro Bowler in Seattle last year, he’s a starting-level left tackle still and he’s expensive so he’s unlikely for the Patriots.

Eric Fisher, 31 -- Played in Indy last year and -- like Brown -- he’s still a starting-level player who would be an unlikely target.

Daryl Williams, 30 -- Released by the Bills despite starting 17 games, the 6-6, 330-pound Williams is a versatile lineman who could be brought in to allow Strange some time to brew.

Riley Reiff, 33 -- Played with the Bengals last year on a one-year deal starting at right tackle. Can also play left tackle. Probably too good and expensive to be a depth/backup player.


Alexander Johnson, 30 -- A big linebacker at 6-2, 245, Johnson played for the Broncos last year on a $3.3M deal. Could be a depth piece behind Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Anthony Barr, 30 -- Once a staple of the Vikings defense, Barr was a cap casualty in Minnesota. Injuries did him in but when he's healthy he's one of the most versatile and productive linebackers on the planet.


Janoris Jenkins, 33 -- Wiry corner the Titans released after he signed a two-year, $15M pact last offseason. The Patriots may have hit their quota of older corners with Malcolm Butler.

Joe Haden, 33 -- In decline, he’d be a borderline starter at this point after starting 11 games with the Steelers last year. A band-aid player.

Robert Alford, 33 -- A long-time starter with the Falcons, Alford spent 2021 with the Cardinals where he started five games. On the downside.

Jason McCourty, 35 -- Injured after seven games in Miami last year, the former Patriot and Titan would give it a go if the Patriots came calling. The age is a concern, but McCourtys age slowly it seems.