With the 2018 NFL Draft officially over, the New England Patriots roster is mostly assembled. However, with the regular season still months away, the Patriots still have time to improve their roster. Starting after May 9th, New England can sign free agents without said signings affecting the compensatory pick formula. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best remaining free agent fits for the Patriots.
Best Remaining Free Agent Fits for the New England Patriots
Eric Reid/Kenny Vaccaro: Strong Safety
New England currently has their starting strong safety in Patrick Chung but has little depth behind him. Duron Harmon is more of a free safety, and Jordan Richards does not belong on an NFL defense. With Chung turning 31 later this year, the Patriots need to find a competent strong safety.
Free agent safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid are both perfect fits with the Patriots. New England needs a player who, like Chung, is able to play in the box and serve as a pseudo-linebacker in nickel packages. Additionally, Chung is one of the best at covering tight ends in the league, so any safety would need to be able to cover tight ends in man coverage.
Reid and Vaccaro both fit that description to a tee. Both players are strong against the run, physical near the line of scrimmage, and solid in coverage of tight ends. Neither player is the best at covering the deeper parts of the field, but that’s what Harmon and Devin McCourty are for.
Of the two, Reid is probably the slightly better player. However, Vaccaro is the more likely of the two to sign with the Patriots. For one, Vaccaro comes from the New Orleans Saints and was drafted by Saints coach Sean Payton. Bill Belichick and Payton both come from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, so there’s a lot of mutual respect there. If Payton likes a player enough to invest a first-round pick, then Belichick will probably also like that player.
Unfortunately, there is another factor that would leave Reid unsigned. Reid was the second player to join in Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests, which is unjustly affecting his value. Kaepernick still can’t get a job, despite being better than most backup quarterbacks and some starters. Reid could suffer a similar fate.
Jonathan Casillas: Linebacker
One of the biggest surprises in the 2018 NFL Draft is that the Patriots didn’t select a linebacker until the fifth round. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Marquis Flowers are all solid starters, but the options behind the starting three are very limited. Considering Hightower’s injury history along with the physical nature of the linebacker position, New England needs to find a linebacker capable of filling in for a few games.
The answer to that problem lies in former Pat Jonathan Casillas. After helping New England bring home their fourth Super Bowl championship in 2014, Casillas has spent the last three seasons with the New York Giants. Casillas has started 30 games in those three seasons, recording 206 tackles and one interception.
He’s not a star by any means, but Casillas is a perfectly competent depth linebacker. He’s decent against the run and isn’t totally lost in coverage. Casillas fits New England’s scheme, as he started three games with the Patriots in 2014 and was never a liability. He’s the perfect insurance policy for if and when Hightower or Van Noy miss a few weeks of action.
Dez Bryant: Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant was released by the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the off-season, so his signing wouldn’t affect the draft compensation formula. New England should try to sign the former Cowboy, as the wide receiver position isn’t as set as it appears.
On paper, the New England Patriots have a lot of bodies at the wide receiver position. However, just about all of them have some type of issue. Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, and Jordan Matthews are all coming off serious injuries in 2017. It’s no guarantee that any of them find their old form in 2018. While Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett don’t have much injury history, neither one is particularly good at this point in their careers. Relying on either one of them to produce is a risky proposition. Really, the only safe bets are Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson, who are both better utilized in backup roles.
Bryant isn’t the receiver he was in 2014, but he can still play. When he was first released, the biggest obstacle in signing him was the price. Bryant wanted a one-year deal at a high price for his services.
However, it’s now obvious that Bryant’s market isn’t what he thought it was. According to several reports, Bryant’s market is practically nonexistent, and it probably wouldn’t take much money to sign him. New England should definitely kick the tires on Bryant and bring him on board on a cheap one-year deal. Dez would add an entirely new element to the Patriots aerial attack, and make the unit that much harder to defend.