As the March 15 start of NFL free agency approaches, we’re highlighting five imminent free agents in several key positions that could make sense for the New England Patriots.
Next up: the cupboards.
Jesse Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
Bates played for the franchise tag this season and continued to be one of the NFL’s best players at the position, having the 15th-highest pro football focus and 5th-highest defensive tackle. Bates plays primarily as a deep safety but can handle strong safety and opening duties as well. He has played at least 950 defensive snaps in all five NFL seasons. If Devin McCourty chooses to retire — he says he’ll make his final decision around the time of the start of free agency — Bates would be an ideal replacement. But he’s in his prime, going into his 26-year-old season, and should be getting a huge contract.
Jordan Boyer, Buffalo Bills
Bill Belichick loves to snag players from New England’s top division rivals, and Boyer would be a great fit on defense. He has been one of the best coverage safeties in the NFL over the past several seasons and has the knack for playing multiple positions. The 31-year-old also brings solid confidence and proven leadership as a three-time Bills captain, which the Patriots will need if McCourty departs. Injuries have been an issue for Boyer this season, as he missed five games with various ailments after only missing twice over the previous five seasons.
Juan Thornhill, Kansas City Chiefs
Thornhill doesn’t go by the name Bates or Poyer, but he’s been a solid player and enduring Super Bowl champ, missing just one game in his four-year career and playing over 1,000 defensive snaps this season. The 27-year-old intercepted three passes and broke up six more in 2022, earning a PFF score that ranks 26th among a qualified safe and a coverage score that ranks 15th. Like Bates and Poyer (and McCourty), Thornhill primarily plays a deep safety (702 shots this season) but he can play the hole (156) and the box too (145).
Julian Love, New York Giants
Love was a rotating player during Joe Judge’s two years in New York, became a full-time starter this season and blossomed. The 2019 fourth-round pick led the team in defensive snaps played, nearly doubling his previous career high with 124 tackles and was ranked a top 20 safety coverage by the PFF. He is one of only two NFL safeties (along with Dallas player Jayron Kearse) to play at least 600 snaps and post a missed tackle rate of less than 5% in each of his last two seasons. Love was also a captain and starting special team player for the Giants, ranking fourth on the team in special teams snaps. Add to his ability to play multiple safeties, and the 24-year-old checks a lot of the Patriots’ boxes.
Doron Harmon, Las Vegas Raiders
Old friend alert! Harmon won three Super Bowls in New England before scoring year-long stints in Detroit, Atlanta and Las Vegas, playing under Josh McDaniels this season. Nicknamed “The Closer” for his penchant for interceptions late in the game, he had a solid season on the Raiders’ terrible defense, recording a career-high 86 tackles, an 86-yard pick-6, and a PFF score that ranked 22nd among a safety and coverage score that ranked Tenth place. Harmon already knows the Patriots’ outline, and at 32 years old, it likely wouldn’t cost much to sign if he was open to a reunion.
More Patriots free agent goals: Offensive tackles
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