New England Patriots

NFL expert views Patriots as ‘best team fit' for these two free agents

The Patriots have money to spend. Finding the best fit is the tricky part.

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NFL free agency is not far away.

The legal tampering period begins March 11, with the free agent market officially opening two days later.

The New England Patriots figure to be an active team in free agency thanks to their $69.5 million in salary cap space, per OverTheCap. Only the Washington Commanders have more cap space than the Patriots, and new head coach Jerod Mayo said in January that the team has cash to burn.

Which of the top 50 free agents would be best suited playing for the Patriots?

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ESPN NFL expert Matt Bowen recently ranked the top 50 free agents in the 2024 class and assigned best fits for each of them.

He identified the Patriots as the "best team fit" for two players, the first being Christian Wilkins. The Miami Dolphins defensive tackle is the No. 5 ranked free agent and an absolute menace in the front seven.

"I expect the Patriots to be active in free agency, and Wilkins has the position versatility to align all over the defensive front," Bowen wrote. "In 2023, Wilkins had 9 sacks, 35 pressures and 68 tackles in Miami. He would pair nicely with Christian Barmore to give first-year head coach Jerod Mayo two difference-makers on the defensive interior."

Even though Wilkins is a great player and would fit nicely on the Patriots' defensive line, the better use of that money might be to just give Christian Barmore an extension. Barmore had an excellent 2023 campaign and is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He's due for a raise soon.

Even though the Patriots released Lawrence Guy on Monday and could use some more depth on the defensive line, making a large-money play for a defensive tackle probably isn't the wisest use of cap space when you consider the glaring weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball. Which position would make a larger impact for the Patriots: an elite defensive tackle like Wilkins or a legit No. 1 wide receiver?

The next player Bowen sees as a great fit on the Patriots is Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Jonah Williams. The Patriots will lose Trent Brown to free agency, and it's still possible they lose Mike Onwenu, too. Regardless of whether Onwenu returns, Williams would be a nice addition. He could play left tackle if Onwenu leaves and right tackle if Onwenu stays.

"With both starting tackles -- Mike Onwenu and Trent Brown -- set to hit free agency, the Patriots could shore up the edges of the OL with Williams, a Bengals mainstay this past season," Bowen wrote. "Despite his lack of upper-tier power and length, Williams wins with technique, gaining depth to create blocking angles and pass-set lines. He'd start at the right tackle spot for New England."

The Patriots' plans for the 2024 NFL Draft could impact their approach to free agency.

They own the No. 3 and No. 34 overall picks, giving them an opportunity to add multiple impact rookies to next year's roster. This draft class also is loaded at the offensive tackle position, so the Patriots might decide that paying a lot of money for someone like Williams isn't worth it.

Regardless of the specific approach, there's no question the Patriots need to be aggressive this offseason in fixing as many roster weaknesses as possible. And luckily for them, they have the draft capital and salary cap flexibility to make major moves. It'll all come down to execution.

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