The New England Patriots are fresh off their fifth Super Bowl title, but there is plenty of work to be done. As Bill Belichick put it right after the Super Bowl, they’re already three weeks behind most other teams as far as offseason work goes.
With free agency just two weeks away, the Patriots have a number of decisions to make. With several key free agents set to hit the market – including Dont'a Hightower, Martellus Bennett, Logan Ryan and LeGarrette Blount – they’ll have to decide who’s worth keeping and who will walk. Similar choices will need to be made regarding outside free agents and whether they would be valued additions.
Here are six players the Patriots should target when free agency begins March 9.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
CB Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings)
This hinges on whether the Patriots bring back Logan Ryan, who’s an unrestricted free agent. Malcolm Butler will likely be back despite being a restricted free agent, but the Patriots have to replace Ryan. Captain Munnerlyn is a good cornerback who has plenty of experience playing the slot, which is where Ryan spent most of his time. He’d be a cheaper replacement and one that would help keep the defense playing at a high level. A cornerback unit of Butler, Munnerlyn, Eric Rowe and Cyrus Jones would be solid.
RB LeGarrette Blount (Patriots)
This seems like an annual decision for the Patriots, but once again, Blount should be brought back. He’s not going to break the bank or put the Patriots in trouble with the cap, which is the way they like to operate. He’s also gotten his career back on track in New England, which should count for something after he was troublesome before arriving there. Blount would be a smart re-signing for the Patriots, who always get by with minimal talent at running back.
DT Calais Campbell (Cardinals)
Malcolm Brown is a good starter at one defensive tackle spot, but the Patriots could use another to pair alongside him. Campbell is a physical specimen with great size and strength and would fit nicely on the Patriots’ defensive line. He offers good versatility, too, which is key in New England’s hybrid defense -- where sometimes only three guys are sent after the quarterback. He won’t be cheap, but at 30 years old he also won’t get Kawann Short-type money.
DE Mario Addison (Panthers)
The Patriots’ biggest need is on the defensive line, where Trey Flowers is the only reliable pass rusher set to return. Addison and his 9.5 sacks would be a nice addition, especially since he won’t be as expensive as the top guys on the market. He’s still just 29 years old and could be a similar signing to Jabaal Sheard, who had a breakout year with the Patriots in 2015. He’d be a nice addition to Matt Patricia’s defense.
WR DeSean Jackson (Redskins)
The Patriots have never been a team to prioritize wide receivers in the draft or free agency, but this is a time for them to break that trend. Jackson isn’t going to command Alshon Jeffery-type money because of his age, and he can greatly impact the Patriots’ offense. Danny Amendola could be on his way out, and Jackson would be a perfect replacement as a deep threat and a No. 2 to Julian Edelman. Tom Brady was at his best when he had a speedster to throw to in Randy Moss.
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LB Dont'a Hightower (Patriots)
The Patriots have to re-sign Hightower if they want to keep their No. 1 scoring defense intact. Several pieces of the D will ultimately leave New England considering how many free agents it has, but Hightower is the cog that makes the unit go. He had 65 tackles and one forced fumble in 13 games last season, but his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Hightower is a must-have for New England.