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New England Patriots 2024 NFL offseason primer: Post-Belichick era starts with No. 3 overall pick, big cap space

New England Patriots’ 2023 season: 4-13, missed playoffs

Overview: The last season of Bill Belichick’s historic run in New England was arguably the worst. The Patriots started 1-5 and had wrapped up the franchise’s first back-to-back losing seasons in 30 years by Week 12. Weeks 4 and 5 were particularly brutal; the Patriots lost to the Cowboys and Saints by a combined score of 72-3. Quarterback Mac Jones was benched the last six games of the season, and Bailey Zappe didn’t prove to be the future either.

It all led to the Patriots parting ways with Belichick after 24 seasons, six Super Bowl titles, nine Super Bowl appearances, 17 AFC East titles and scores of more unprecedented accomplishments. Enter Jerod Mayo, the linebackers coach who was hired as head coach on Jan. 12. He had a message from the jump: “I’m not trying to be Bill.”

Maybe not, but there’s a ton of work ahead for Mayo and the Patriots, both in the shadow of Belichick’s success and the mess of a roster he left behind.

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

OT Trenton Brown
OT Mike Onwenu
S Kyle Dugger
WR Kendrick Bourne

Who’s in/out: On a roster this deficient of talent, it’s hard to find a meaningful focus, though tight end Hunter Henry is reportedly re-signing. Most of the Patriots’ top free agents have concerns with either injuries or production, though Onwenu has been a hit as a 2020 sixth-round draft pick, developing into a solid starter.

Key free agent needs

Wide receiver
Offensive tackle
Edge rusher

Bill Belichick is gone as Patriots head coach, with Jerod Mayo (left) taking his place. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is gone as Patriots head coach, with Jerod Mayo (left) taking his place. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Why the holes? It all starts at quarterback for New England. Mac Jones’ solid start to his career fell apart the past couple years, and he’s now been traded to Jacksonville. The Patriots own the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, which figures to give them a shot at one of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels.

The wide receivers room has been in dire need of upgrades for years as well, and this year’s draft/free agent class at the position is strong. There are needs on defense too, and as a head coach with a defensive background, expect Mayo to emphasize halting the backslide that phase endured in 2023.

Do they have the money?

Yes. New England has a whopping $75.4 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. Even after any attempts to re-sign its own pending free agents, the team will have plenty of extra money to go big-game hunting for outside players. Might that feature a quarterback like Kirk Cousins? The Patriots could definitely use the firepower on offense if they aren’t able to address those needs in the draft.

Notable cuts
CB J.C. Jackson was released, leaving DT Davon Godchaux as another name to watch

Why they might be gone: The mercurial Jackson was benched by the Chargers last season and re-acquired by the Patriots after they let him leave in free agency in 2022. He’s not in Mayo’s plans, and there’s no dead cap hit for the Pats now that he’s been cut. Godchaux, meanwhile, has an $11.7 million cap hit in 2024, and his dead cap hit is $3.5 million if cut. The team has already started to make cuts as safety Adrian Phillips and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy were reportedly released, saving roughly $5 million on the cap.

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)

(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

1st round: No. 3
2nd round: No. 34
3rd round: No. 68
4th round: No. 102
5th round: No. 136
6th round: No. 179
7th round: No. 232 (via Bears)

Good draft fit

Jayden Daniels, QB, New England

Why him? The Patriots need a long-term answer at quarterback, and Daniels is growing into the consensus No. 3 QB in this class, including on Yahoo Sports draft expert Nate Tice’s big board. Tice says there’s a lot to like about the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s game, including his accuracy, arm strength, competitiveness and ability to operate in the pocket and outside structure if a play breaks down. There are concerns about his slight frame, but the upside might be too intriguing for the Patriots to pass up.

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

This is a team that needs offensive reinforcements everywhere. New England ranked 31st in points and 30th in yards last year, and the team hasn’t even managed a 900-yard receiver since Tom Brady left town. First, the Patriots need to solve quarterback, be it with an early round selection in the draft, a later speculative play if the team trades down or perhaps one of the appealing free agents. And it’s also imperative that New England hunts for an impact receiver in the draft, something the organization has had difficulty finding for decades, even through the Bill Belichick dynasty years. — Scott Pianowski

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