As the start of NFL free agency nears on March 15, we spotlight five impending free agents in several key positions that could make sense for the New England Patriots.
Next step: security.
Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
Bates played on the franchise tag this season and continued to be one of the best players in the NFL at his position, earning the 15th-highest overall Pro Football Focus rating and the fifth-highest defense rating against the race. Bates primarily plays as a deep safety, but can also handle strong safety and slot duties. He played at least 950 defensive snaps in his five NFL seasons. If Devin McCourty chooses to retire — he’s said he’ll make his final decision as soon as free agency begins — Bates would be an ideal replacement. But he’s in his prime, entering his 26-year-old season, and is set to command a hefty contract.
Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills
Bill Belichick loves to poach players from New England’s division rivals, and Poyer would be a good choice for his defense. He’s been one of the NFL’s best cover safeties in recent seasons and has the versatility to play in multiple positions. The 31-year-old also brings brash confidence and proven leadership as a three-time Bills captain that the Patriots would need if McCourty walks away. Injuries have been a problem for Poyer this season, however, as he has missed five games with various ailments after missing just two in the previous five campaigns.
Juan ThornhillKansas City Chiefs
Thornhill doesn’t have the name recognition of Bates or Poyer, but he was an effective and enduring DB for the Super Bowl-champion Chiefs, missing just one game in his four-year career and making more than 1,000 snaps. defensive this season. The 27-year-old has intercepted three passes and broken six more in 2022, posting a PFF rating ranked 26th among qualified safeties and a coverage rating ranked 15th. Like Bates and Poyer (and McCourty), Thornhill primarily plays as a deep safety (702 snaps this season) but can play the slot (156) and in the box too (145).
Julian Love, New York Giants
A rotational player during Joe Judge’s two years in New York, Love started full-time this season and thrived. The 2019 fourth-round pick led the team in defensive snaps played, nearly doubled his previous career high with 124 tackles and ranked in the top 20 in coverage by PFF. He is one of only two guards in the NFL (along with Jayron Kearse of Dallas) to play at least 600 snaps and post a missed tackle rate of less than 5% in each of the past two seasons. Love was also captain and special team member for the Giants, ranking fourth on the team in special teams snaps. Add to that his ability to play multiple points of safety, and the 24-year-old checks many boxes for the Patriots.
Duron Harmon, Las Vegas Raiders
Alert old friend! Harmon won three Super Bowls in New England before spending a year in Detroit, Atlanta and Las Vegas, where he played under Josh McDaniels this season. Nicknamed ‘The Closer’ for his penchant for late-game interceptions, he had a solid season in a horrible Raiders defense, recording a career-high 86 tackles, a pick for 86 yards, a PFF rating ranked 22nd among securities and a 10th ranked cover note. Harmon already knows the Patriots’ plan and, at 32, it probably wouldn’t cost much to sign if he’s open to a meeting.
More Patriots free agent targets: Offensive tackles
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