The New England Patriots have been largely inactive during the first couple waves of free agency after dominating the market last spring.
Now that we’re entering the pre-draft wave of free agency, Bill Belichick and Co. are going bargain shopping.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, that includes signing former Cleveland Browns and New York Giants safety Jabrill Peppers to a one-year contract.
Peppers, 26, was a first-round pick of the Browns back in 2017 after an electric career with the Michigan Wolverines. He played just two seasons in Cleveland before being dealt to New York as part of a package in the blockbuster Odell Beckham Jr. trade ahead of the 2019 season.
Peppers had to settle for a one-year deal after the strong safety suffered a torn ACL six games into the 2021 campaign. With that said, he should be back in time for training camp.
For the Patriots, this is all about upside and getting someone on the cheap. After struggling through his first two seasons with the Browns, Peppers played well in Jersey from 2019-20. This included him yielding an 84.0 passer rating when targeted in 2019 with that number increasing minimally to 89.8 the following season.
- Jabrill Peppers stats (career): 333 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 25 passes defended, 4 interceptions
New England has a hole at strong safety next to franchise legend Devin McCourty. Peppers should at least be able to compete for the starting job during camp. Below, we look at three moves the Patriots should still make this offseason.
New England Patriots sign Joe Haden
Out of necessity, the Pats had to recently bring back former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. That came after No. 1 corner J.C. Jackson signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency. There’s a complete lack of proven depth and talent at cornerback in New England, leading to speculation that the team will have to compensate big time in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Why not bring in a former Pro Bowl performer on the cheap? Haden’s regression with the Pittsburgh Steelers a season ago still has him on the NFL free-agent market. With that said, Haden is also one season removed from yielding a 50.6% completion and 75.9 QB rating when targeted. He’d be a plug-and-play starter next to Jalen Mills immediately.
New England Patriots sign Anthony Hitchens
Middle linebacker has been a bedrock of Belichick’s defense in New England with the likes of Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower starring in that role over the past several seasons. Both are now free agents and could be looking for new homes.
New England is looking to get more athletic in this area. Signing someone like Josh Bynes from the Ravens or drafting a linebacker could be in the cards.
While we expect the latter, Hitchens makes the most sense on the free-agent market. He was a full-time starter for the Cowboys and Chiefs over the past six seasons before Kansas City released him earlier this offseason. That type of experience would prove invaluable in New England.
New England Patriots trade for DK Metcalf
While the Pats want to build through the draft, acquiring a legit No. 1 receiving option for Mac Jones has to be in the cards here. He worked well with free-agent signing Kendrick Bourne a season ago. Youngster Jakobi Meyers has also been a nice slot option. There’s not much outside of those two in NE.
Why not go out there and nab someone who can dominate on the outside and win against smallish defensive backs? At 6-foot-4, Metcalf has been a physical force throughout his three-year NFL career. There’s also a chance he could be had on the trade market with the Seattle Seahawks entering a rebuild.
- DK Metcalf stats (2019-21): 216 receptions, 3,170 yards, 29 TD, 60% catch rate
Acquiring Metcalf might force New England to give up its first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s also in line for a massive contract extension with the wide receiver market exploding. Even then, the Pats are not getting anyone of this ilk late in the first round. Still only 24, Metcalf would also be a long-term solution as Jones’ top guy. It makes too much sense.