The New England Patriots are watching the playoffs from their homes for the first time in what seems like an eternity. For a franchise that has won it six times since 2001, it must be extremely odd to not be in the running for the Super Bowl.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady left the Patriots last offseason to head to Tampa Bay, and the Cam Newton signing never panned out like many thought it would.

Free Agent Targets

What do the Patriots need to do going forward? We take a look at three early free-agent targets for the Patriots.

TE Hunter Henry

The Patriots desperately need a tight end since Rob Gronkowski's retirement and then return to the NFL. While Newton can be blamed for a lot of the Patriots' offensive struggles this season, the weapons around him were subpar.

Henry to the Patriots just makes too much sense. There was a video swirling around with Bill Belichick talking to Henry after the Patriots-Chargers game, and Henry's return to Los Angeles is also in question.

While Henry has battled injuries through the first few years of his career, he's a top-10 tight end when healthy. The Arkansas product can also block at a high level—a necessity when being coached by Belichick.

Henry is just 26 years old, and it seems as if the Chargers are ready to move on from him in the offseason. Henry posted 60 receptions for 613 yards and four scores but did so in just 14 games. The issue surrounding Henry is health, as he has yet to play a full 16-game slate in his first four years in the league.

Still, the talent is evident, and a better-than-most tight end will surely help the Patriots going forward.

Curtis Samuel, Panthers

WR Curtis Samuel

Samuel just fits the Belichick mold perfectly. He can run, catch, pass, play on special teams, and block. Samuel is everything that you want from a player, and that goes for any team in the league.

Again, the Patriots offense struggled mightily in 2020 and needs to infiltrate playmakers immediately to be able to compete. In an up-and-coming AFC East that includes Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, and Stefon Diggs—as well as the New York Jets and their No. 2 overall pick—the competition is increasing for the New England.

Samuel is a gadget player who can do so many things well and just seems like such an easy fit for the Patriots. The Ohio State product finished 2020 with a career-high in catches and yards—both rushing and receiving. Samuel had 77 catches for 851 yards and three scores while chipping in 41 carries for 200 yards and a pair of scores.

While this year's wide receiver class is full of big names—JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson to name a few—Samuel might be able to be had for a “bargain” price. The 24-year-old ex-Buckeye has a long career ahead of him, and a coach like Belichick will surely bring about wonders with a guy like Samuel.

Bears, Mitchell Trubisky

QB Mitchell Trubisky

Shocking, right?

The quarterback position needs a change, and quickly. While Trubisky might not be the most exciting free-agent acquisition, he certainly might be the best fit for the Patriots.

Trubisky has had an on-and-off tenure early on with the Chicago Bears, and despite leading the Bears to the playoffs this season, the writing is on the wall for Trubisky and Chicago to part ways.

While Trubisky struggled here and there in his four-year career, his talent is evident. The ex-Tar Heel had career lows in passing yards this year, finishing with just over 2,000 yards. It certainly didn't help that Matt Nagy went to Nick Foles early on, and then Trubisky got injured and missed games.

Nonetheless, Trubisky is only 26 and could probably be had at a fair price—especially with the infiltration of rookie quarterbacks set to be drafted this season.

Trubisky is definitely an upgrade over Newton and Jarrett Stidham, and can at least make the Patriots more competitive with the right pieces around him.

With all that being said, the Patriots could very well draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Patriots could also swing a trade for a veteran quarterback—with guys like Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garappolo are rumored—but that remains to be seen.