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Pats Draft Preview Part I

Each year I take a look at the Patriots free agents ahead of the start of the new league year starting on March 17th. (Free agents can start negotiating with other teams on March 15th.)

I break these players into 3 groups: returners, goners and Price is Right contestants.

(Those who “could” return, if….The Price is Right!)

We begin with those I believe will remain in Foxboro in 2021.

CB- Jason McCourty

Relatively simple case, veteran cornerback that still has something to left, even though his snaps were reduced last season. As a rotational corner to add depth at a position that really could see a lot of change next season, McCourty makes a lot of sense to bring back as a relatively cheap option. Brother Devin has already said that he will be returning, as there was some murmurs that he had considered retirement a year ago.

C- David Andrews

One of the few feel good stories that emanated from the 2020 Patriots season was the return of center David Andrews. After missing 2019 with blood clots, Andrews stabilized an offensive line that after years as a strength under coach Dante Scarnecchia could have dropped off greatly in 2020. Marcus Cannon opted out, (Cannon may retire before 2021) and Bill Belichick shocked everybody by placing the franchise tag on Joe Thuney at $14.7 million (never trading him.) Add in the emergence of rookie Michael Onwenu and the offensive line had a pretty good season, although at times it was tough to tell due to Cam Newton’s proclivity for lingering in the pocket.

Andrews made just $3m in 2020, could see a raise in 2021 but I have a hard time seeing him go elsewhere. Thuney is a free agent as well and as was the case last year is a much tougher situation to read. (More on that in the weeks ahead.)

DT- Adam Butler

Butler is an example of a productive player that doesn’t get the acclaim that he is probably due. Adam Butler is a rarity in the modern NFL: an interior lineman who can take over games. I’ve always been an advocate of Adam Butler and found myself praising #70’s performance in 2020 as he anchored a front-4 that didn’t get much ballyhoo. Bill Belichick is always searching for value, and even with $64million in cap space this year, (3rd best in the league) don’t expect GM Bill to forsake a good buy on a player like Adam Butler. (Stay tuned, without giving much away, Butler’s future in Foxboro could be directly tied to that of Lawrence Guy and vice versa.)

ST- Justin Bethel

Nobody invests more in dedicated special teams players than the New England Patriots. Case in point, Matthew Slater is a 9-time Pro Bowler. Speaking of Slater, the heart of the Patriots teams unit since 2008, will turn 36 at the start of the season. While I think Slater returns in 2021, one would have to believe that at some point Justin Bethel will become the Patriots’ special teams captain.

I believe Bill Belichick values Justin Bethel more than most, although as I said last year in this preview, this could change if former special teams’ coach Joe Judge wants to bring Bethel to New York badly enough.

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