April 1, 2023

Predictions for 10 Patriots free agents on defense (plus a kicker and punter)

A day after gazing into the crystal ball to see what the future holds for Patriots free agents on offense, it’s the defense’s turn.

This offseason’s list includes a pair of secondary staples — Devin McCourty and Jonathan Jones — along with newcomers like Jabrill Peppers and Mack Wilson. So who will be sticking around Foxborough in 2023?

Here are predictions for all 10 defensive free agents (plus a kicker and punter):

Devin McCourty, 36 next season

2022 cap hit: $5,750,000

As McCourty dips his toe into the media world, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he decides to Ron-Burgundy cannonball into that pool. At this stage of his career, McCourty has nothing left to prove and his twin brother has already forged a path to what can come next.

Prediction: McCourty retires and ends up in the Patriots HOF in 5 years.

Jonathan Jones, 29

2022 cap hit: $7,701,098

New England’s most intriguing free agent on the defensive side of the ball, Jones is due for a fascinating month of March. Though he plays a premier position, free agents other than J.C. Jackson didn’t break the bank last offseason — Carlton Davis got the second-most money at 3 years, $45 million — and Jones probably isn’t regarded in the Top 3 for this class. ESPN doesn’t even have him among the five best: Their Top 50 free agent list has Jamel Dean (9), Cameron Sutton (28), Rock Ya-Sin (34), Byron Murphy (38) and Patrick Peterson (48), but no sign of Jones.

Bill Belichick knows how valuable he can be to the Patriots defense though. Capable of playing both inside and outside, as well as a highly-regarded off-the-field player, his value is probably highest in New England.

Prediction: Jones re-signs with Patriots (and gets a quality deal).

Jabrill Peppers, 27

2022 cap hit: $1,725,000

One of the most entertaining players to watch in 2022, Peppers allowed the Patriots to do quite a few different things on the back end. They were really versatile in the secondary. If McCourty retires, safety depth will be even more important. The guess here is that both sides liked the first trial run and find some middle ground to run it back.

Prediction: Peppers re-signs in New England.

Raekwon McMillan, 27

2022 cap hit: $1,055,000

McMillan started New England’s season opener on the edge opposite Matthew Judon, but then didn’t start another game anywhere over the course of the season. Though he has special teams value, the bet here is that McMillan finds a bigger role on a different defense.

Prediction: McMillan signs elsewhere.

Mack Wilson, 25

2022 cap hit: $2,540,000

Acquired for Chase Winovich, Wilson began the year with a substantial role, but that tailed off in a major way as the season wore on. In fact, the linebacker didn’t play a single defensive snap in the team’s final five games. The writing on the wall says he’s a better fit in a different defense.

Prediction: Wilson signs elsewhere.

Carl Davis, 31

2022 cap hit: $1,047,500

A steady backup with the funniest sack dance on the team, Davis isn’t going to light the world on fire, but provided necessary depth behind Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore. He’s been a good fit in New England.

Prediction: Davis re-signs with Patriots.

Daniel Ekuale, 29

2022 cap hit: $1,002,777

Ekuale played more snaps than Davis this season, and at this stage of his career, is probably ready to be a starter somewhere. The bet is that the defensive tackle does just that, for football reasons as well as financial ones.

Prediction: Ekuale signs elsewhere.

Cody Davis

2022 cap hit: $2,300,000

With Matthew Slater as another potential retirement candidate, Davis’ presence becomes that much more important. New England’s special teams took a hit after Davis tore his ACL, and there’s no way that went unnoticed by Belichick. Plus, Davis is very well-regarded in the locker room.

Prediction: Davis re-signs in New England.

Myles Bryant (RFA)

2022 cap hit: $895,000

Though he’s a lightning rod on Twitter, Bryant can play a specific role well and it makes plenty of sense to bring him back as a depth piece. He’s gotten better every season he’s been in Foxborough.

Prediction: Bryant re-signs with the Patriots.

Joejuan Williams

2022 cap hit: $2,108,482

Things just never panned out for the No. 45 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Caught somewhere between a safety and a cornerback, Williams was never able to catch on in either spot and missed the entire 2022 season with a shoulder injury. A change of scenery is probably best for all parties.

Prediction: Williams signs elsewhere.

Michael Palardy

2022 cap hit: $397,776

Disclaimer: Because Joe Cardona and Matthew Slater landed with the offense on Tuesday, we’re throwing a kicker and punter with the defensive group for this installment.

Signed after Jake Bailey landed on injured reserve, Palardy really struggled to get the Patriots punting situation back on track. He finished as the second-worst statistical punter in the league — only trailing Bailey.

Prediction: Palardy signs elsewhere.

Quinn Nordin (ERFA)

2022 cap hit: $0

Believe it or not, Nordin was technically a member of the 2022 Patriots. The kicker landed on the NFI list in June and never came off it. It’s really easy and inexpensive to keep exclusive rights free agents, and Nick Folk isn’t getting any younger, so it wouldn’t hurt to have another training camp leg to ease his workload. Meanwhile Tristian Vizcaino might be looking for steadier work somewhere else. Yep, we just talked ourselves into Nordin coming back.

Prediction: Nordin re-signs with the Patriots.

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