The New England Patriots encountered quite the rude awakening upon making the leap into life without current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Of course, Brady and the Buccaneers went on to win Super Bowl LV in the longtime Patriots signal caller’s first go-round down in Tampa Bay while New England finished the 2020-21 regular season at a nearly even 7-9.
Typically way ahead in regards to the AFC East standings, the Patriots finished the 2020-21 campaign in second place behind the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills with New England struggling mightily at times en route to missing out on the postseason. As a result of the team’s poor performance this past season, the Patriots have earned the No. 15 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. With a full-on rebuild currently underway in New England, whether the heralded franchise will actually acknowledge such a notion or not, this pick could be crucial for the Patriots both in the present and future.
On the other hand, the Patriots still haven’t found an answer to fill the void left by the aforementioned Brady as longtime Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton certainly wasn’t the answer in New England. With several other holes left to fill in addition to the fact that the Patriots don’t have an overwhelming amount of salary cap availability, it could be yet another interesting year in New England for head coach Bill Belichick and company.
1. Patriots won’t select a QB in 2021 NFL Draft’s first round
With the Patriots currently owning the No. 15 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the AFC East franchise has its highest opening round selection since all the way back in 2008. The Patriots previously selected standout linebacker Jerod Mayo at No. 10 overall, a move that worked out pretty well for both parties. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick decide to do this time around, though, as New England could very well end its drought of failing to select a quarterback in the first round of an NFL Draft.
Because there are too many other questions that still need answering in New England, it is entirely possible that the Patriots simply plug this hole with another veteran free-agent quarterback like the team did this past season with longtime Carolina Panthers signal-caller and former league MVP Cam Newton. Of course, such a deal did not work out particularly well for the Patriots, though the contract didn’t cost the organization very much time or money either. If the Patriots do elect to pass on a quarterback at No. 15 overall, lack of success in 2021-22 could lead to an even higher opening round draft pick next offseason, which can then be used on a high-level signal-caller at a more appropriate time.
2. Patriots will sign free agent WR Allen Robinson to multi-year contract
Even though the Patriots are looking to rebound from a disastrous season in 2020-21, the legendary AFC East franchise does have one thing still going for it—time. With future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick and longtime offensive coordinator and trusty sidekick Josh McDaniels in place for the long haul, the Patriots can slowly but surely add to its roster. As a result, look for the Patriots to be in on some of the notable free agents this offseason, a list that should no doubt include former Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson.
Obviously, the Patriots need some serious help at the wide receiver position regardless of who is under center moving forward. However, the soon-to-be 28-year-old Robinson definitely won’t come cheap as he previously signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Bears after coming over from the Jaguars. Even with several other big-time free agent wideouts slated to test the open market this offseason, a group that includes well-known pass-catchers like Corey Davis, Chris Godwin, A.J. Green and others, Robinson remains the best of the bunch and should be a major target for a wide receiver needy Patriots team.
3. Patriots will re-sign RB James White
Although veteran running back James White is technically categorized as a “role player,” the longtime Patriots standout remains one of the most versatile offensive players in the game today. Not only that, but he is a former Super Bowl MVP and one of the most respected members of the Patriots’ locker room. Spending his entire NFL playing career in New England as it stands today, expect White to return to the fold for the Patriots in 2021-22 despite presently serving as a pending free agent.
The 29-year-old White earned a $3 million base salary plus some additional cash in 2020-21, though he could receive more money from another franchise that can also utilize his services. Even so, it will be interesting to see if the longtime Patriots running back ultimately opts to exit New England or remain in place for a bit less money. There is a very slim chance that the Patriots will make the highest offer to White this offseason as this method has worked out for the team in the past.
It is worth noting, though, that this is definitely a different franchise with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady down in Florida as now could be the best time for White to bow out of New England. Then again, being part of the ongoing rebuild could be that much sweeter for him in the end as well—assuming the project is successful, that is.
4. Patriots will trade away CB Stephon Gilmore before the regular season
With the Patriots reeling for the better part of the 2020-21 campaign, it was rumored—more than once—that the struggling AFC East franchise was shopping All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. However, with Gilmore still under contract for the 2021-22 campaign, the team’s asking price was no doubt astronomical. On the other hand, Gilmore now only has one year left on his current contract as a move out of New England should be much more likely this offseason. With Gilmore potentially slated to serve as a “rental player” for a contending team in 2021-22 before presumably gearing up to test the open market as a free agent next year, perhaps the Patriots’ asking price will come back down to Earth.
With soon-to-be 31-year-old Gilmore entering the final year of his current contract this offseason, the veteran defensive back won’t affect the team’s salary cap situation past the 2021-22 season. Regardless of when Gilmore is potentially traded by the Patriots, whether it is before or after June 1, New England will still encounter the same dead cap hit and salary cap savings in his absence. Gilmore’s dead cap hit in 2021-22 would be $7,670,834 while a trade to another franchise would free up $7,343,750 for the Patriots next season.
There would absolutely be a long list of teams that would be lining up outside of Gillette Stadium if the Patriots do make Gilmore available in the near future, a group that could include the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and plenty of others. Head coach Bill Belichick is not one to just trade a player of Gilmore’s caliber to a contending team in the AFC East or AFC in general, so things could get even more interesting depending on which teams will pony up in order to secure the services of the standout cornerback.