How Patriots Can Use Remaining Cap After Calvin Ridley Rejection

The Patriots came into this offseason as one of the teams with the most cap space to utilize, but New England started free agency flat.

New England accomplished its goal of retaining key internal free agents and “core” players like Mike Onwenu. However, potential targets like Michael Pittman Jr. and Baker Mayfield were franchise-tagged or chose to re-sign, respectively.

The way the franchise tag market played out left Calvin Ridley as the top wide receiver on the market. It meant he had plenty of leverage to get the best deal possible. New England reportedly presented a competitive offer, but the Tennessee Titans reportedly had a better framework that enticed the 29-year-old.

On one hand, the Titans overpaid for a wide receiver who projects to be a low-end No. 1 or a quality No. 2 option, but on the other hand, the Patriots whiffed on not adding high-end talent to the roster. It’s a tricky situation the team finds themselves in. There’s a lack of quality in the market, but they also have a lot of money to spend. New England must avoid the errors of the 2021 offseason where money was spent on mediocre free agents, but if the team doesn’t spend money on marquee names, the offseason will be seen as a failure.

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The Patriots’ moves do hint that their plans hinge on the 2024 NFL Draft. Jacoby Brissett’s signing likely means a quarterback will be selected at third overall, and the hope is that more talent can be acquired. It’s a risky gamble, but New England still has moves it can make before next month’s draft.

Losing out on Jonah Williams is tough, but Tyron Smith still is available. His injury history isn’t ideal, but the former Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle still is among the best in the league when healthy. Justin Simmons is a high-end defensive player the Patriots can target. And as for free-agent wide receivers, New England reportedly is eyeing Tyler Boyd, and Mike Williams has the skillset to be a No. 1 option if he’s fully recovered from his ACL injury from last season. D.J. Chark and Hunter Renfrow also are solid options to round out the receiver corps.

The trade market also is an option for the Patriots. Brandon Aiyuk’s name has been floated given his uncertain future with the San Francisco 49ers, and Tee Higgins reportedly requested a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals. New England could have two lockdown corners if it acquired L’Jarius Sneed from the Kansas City Chiefs. Justin Fields’ stock seems to be low based on the lack of interest in him, but he’s still an option the Patriots should consider — remember how multiple teams, including New England, last offseason decided Lamar Jackson wasn’t worth the price and then he had an MVP season?

Christian Barmore is set to be a free agent next season, so the Patriots could be proactive and re-sign him after he finally showed his potential to be a disruptive force in the interior. Players like David Andrews, Matthew Judon, Jahlani Tavai, Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger, who was given the transition tag, also are candidates for a contract extension. Trent Brown also could decide to come back if the offer is right.

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But Jerod Mayo and de facto general manager Eliot Wolf could decide it’s better to fight the good fight next season. Teams can roll over their cap space, and the Patriots could decide it’s not worth spending money just to spend it.

Mayo walked back his bold declaration of stating New England could “burn some cash,” and we’re starting to see why after Ridley rejected the Patriots’ deal. The best names often re-sign with their respective team and mediocre names get overpaid due to scarcity in the market. It should not be an excuse after the disaster of a season the Patriots are coming off, which is why they should try to exhaust all options before going all in on the 2024 NFL Draft.

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