NFL free agency is less than 4 weeks away and while all the chatter in New England is centered around Tom Brady, the Patriots have other holes on their roster that need to be addressed. Not only will this list no include Tom Brady, but it will not include any of the Patriots impending free agents. No Joe Thuney, no Devin McCourty, no Kyle Van Noy, no Jamie Collins and no Phillip Dorsett. These will all be players outside the organization for the Patriots to consider bringing in.
Anderson comes in as the second best free agent receiver behind Amari Cooper, so his market could get a little pricey. The potential of Cooper getting franchise tagged by the Cowboys in the coming days and an overall weak wide receiver pool in free agency could only further increase Anderson’s price tag. Nevertheless, if the plan is to get Tom Brady more weapons, almost no expense should be spared.
Anderson has had 3 straight seasons with at least 50 receptions for the Jets and was thought to be headed for somewhat of a breakout season in 2019 until Jamison Crowder emerged as the Jets top target. Anderson was forced to play second fiddle to Crowder and the arrival of an elite pass catching running back in Le’Veon Bell didn’t help Anderson’s cause either. As a result, Anderson was unable to produce the way many had hoped. In 2017, it appeared Anderson was on track for stardom after he racked up 941 yards in just his second season. As he prepares to hit free agency, he’s still yet to eclipse 1,000 yards in any season of his career. That could change if he heads to New England.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Patriots stole a free agent wide receiver from a division rival. Wes Welker and Chris Hogan significantly improved in the Patriots system after only seeing moderate success with their former teams. Anderson would be just the latest AFC East receiver to seek greener pastures and flourish with Tom Brady.
Speaking of stealing former Jets, Williams could be another prime candidate for the Patriots to bolster their defensive line in free agency. The Jets traded Williams to the Giants last season where he failed to make a significant impact and Williams is still looking to live up to his status as the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Williams flashed in 2016, accumulating 7 sacks and notching a Pro Bowl appearance, but hasn’t seen much success outside of that season. He only managed to put up half a sack last season in his 12 starts between the two New York teams. However, there’s still reason for optimism for the former top pick.
Williams has proven he’s capable of playing at a near-elite level at his best and perhaps the best coach in the league can bring that out of him. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported that Williams also called former Patriots DL Richard Seymour to ask for guidance and tutelage this offseason to improve his game. That kind of ambition is a key reason why Williams isn’t a lost cause and the Patriots connection only adds to the reasons why bringing the former Jet to New England could be just what both Williams and the Patriots desperately need.
The Patriots need a top tight end after ranking at the bottom of the league in tight end production in 2019. Henry comes in with a bit of injury history, but an oft injured player at the position is nothing the Patriots aren’t used to. When Henry is on the field, he’s produced at an elite level.
Last season, Henry put up 55 catches, 652 yards and 5 touchdowns which ranked him 8th in total tight end production despite only playing 12 games. Henry should come in a little cheaper than other top options because of his injury history, which should make him all the more appealing to Bill Belichick, who’s nothing if not a sucker for a good deal. Even with his fragility, Henry would be a perfect fit for the Patriots.
Funchess doesn’t have the pedigree that Brady may be looking for in a receiver, but there’s a lot of untapped potential in the former 2nd round pick. Funchess broke his collarbone in his first game last season after signing a one-year “prove it” deal with the Colts. He should be looking for the same sort of contract this offseason, only at a significantly reduced price.
Funchess had his best season in 2017, finishing with 63 receptions and 8 touchdowns with the Panthers. He was converted to wide receiver after playing tight end in college which means he’d serve as a solid redzone threat for the Patriots, something the team lacked in 2019 after losing Rob Gronkowski. Funchess brings along a hefty load of question marks, but could be a solid option if New England misses out on some of the other top available pass-catching options. He also went to Brady’s alma mater, Michigan, if that counts for anything. Maybe it’s worth a few brownie points from the legendary quarterback.
No, not as Tom Brady’s replacement. At least, not yet.
Mariota will have a difficult time finding a starting job anywhere in the league after his benching last season, but latching on as a backup somewhere shouldn’t be too difficult. Coming into New England and learning behind an aging legend at quarterback for a few years à la Teddy Bridgewater might be the best thing Mariota could do for his career. He can spend time behind the scenes studying Tom Brady and working with Bill Belichick and then, a few years down the road, he can hit free agency again, but this time with an increased level of intrigue. Perhaps he could even be the heir apparent in New England.
It’s unclear what Mariota would cost, but if he comes in under $6 million, it’d be worth it for the Patriots to have him on the roster where he can serve as both a great backup and potential future starter.
Photo: (Denis Poroy – AP Photo)