Ranking the Patriots' players: Who are the most valuable assets this offseason?

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Ranking the Patriots' players: Who are the most valuable assets this offseason?

So much of the discussion around the New England Patriots this offseason has concerned the state of the roster and whether a full rebuild is necessary before adding a quarterback, potentially with the No. 3 overall pick.

That’s an enormous decision that requires a deep analysis of the roster, player contracts and the franchise’s short- and long-term goals. Today, let’s take a step in that direction by ranking the 45 Patriots players under contract who were on the active roster at the end of the season.

This isn’t a ranking of how good they were in 2023 or even how good they’ll be in 2024, but rather a more comprehensive look that accounts for their contract, age and position — and how good they might be in the coming years. Essentially, it’s an examination of how valuable the Patriots’ players are.

Tier 1

This is the tier of players you center your team around, players on lucrative contracts that still exceed their value (like Patrick Mahomes or Tyreek Hill) or young players at premium positions still on their first contract. These are players who would command a first-round pick (or more) in a trade.

We’re putting only one Patriots player in this tier, and, perhaps alarmingly, he has played only four career NFL games. That’s not ideal.

But Christian Gonzalez was good enough in training camp and those initial four games that we’re going to slot him in here. In his brief rookie season, Gonzalez was playing as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. And if you’re looking at roster construction, cornerback is one of the three or four most important positions in the NFL.

So even though it seems weird to put a player with such little pro experience in this tier, we’re doing it anyway. When accounting for contract situations, no one else on this roster would yield a first-round pick in a trade.

Tier 2

This is the tier of really good players — but ones who fall just outside the top five at their position or play non-premium positions. These are players who could likely command a second-round pick in a trade.

Again, it’s not ideal that the Patriots have only one guy in this tier, but it’s also worth celebrating and noting the breakout Christian Barmore had last season. After a promising but occasionally underwhelming first two years in the NFL, Barmore was one of the team’s few bright spots in 2023. He finished with 8 1/2 sacks and was a constant disrupter in the backfield. He still needs to improve his run defense to become a more well-rounded player, but that weakness didn’t matter much on a New England defense filled with so many run stuffers.

Barmore is only 24, which is great for the Patriots. But he has only one year remaining on his initial contract and is set for a massive payday and a big boost in the amount of salary-cap space he occupies. His 2023 season made him one of the 10 best defensive tackles in the league, but he probably still ranks outside the top five behind players like Aaron Donald, Dexter Lawrence, Chris Jones, Quinnen Williams, Jalen Carter and Derrick Brown.

Tier 3

This is the tier of players who are above average for their position and will be valuable for a team to complement its high-end players — either very good aging veterans or up-and-coming young players. These are players who could probably command a third-round pick in a trade.

Matthew Judon has been the Patriots’ best player in recent years, but the unfortunate reality for the Patriots is that the league isn’t lining up to give away a first- or second-round pick for someone who is coming off an injury and will be 32 next season. But Judon, who had four sacks in four games last season, is still an important part of New England’s defense.

Keion White didn’t shine as a rookie, but he showed enough that the team can confidently give him a bigger role.

Demario Douglas was the team’s top wide receiver — which, in fairness, was a low bar to clear. But even though Douglas is an undersized slot receiver, which isn’t as valuable in the NFL as a deep threat or outside receiver, his 561 yards in 14 games were impressive. Could we see a 1,000-yard season in 2024?

Tier 4

This is the tier of players who are nice complements to a roster, but either because of their age, position or contract situation, they probably wouldn’t command more than a Day 3 draft pick in return.

This is a large group of players, many of whom played a big role for the Pats last season. And it’s not meant to take away from Jahlani Tavai, Ja’Whaun Bentley or Jabrill Peppers, who were three of the team’s best players in 2023. But linebackers and safeties simply aren’t considered as valuable in the NFL these days. Still, they can be meaningful contributors.

There are also a lot of aging veterans in this group who probably won’t be with the team in two years, players such as Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr. and even Jonathan Jones. Players such as Cole Strange and Sidy Sow project as starters for the next couple of years, but only as slightly above-average ones at non-premium positions (left and right guard).

As for Mac Jones, the Patriots would probably do well if they could land a fifth-round pick for him via trade.

Tier 5

This is the tier of replacement-level or below-average players, ones who likely wouldn’t draw more than a seventh-round pick on the trade market.

More than half of the active roster players under contract in 2024 fall into this tier, which isn’t ideal. It’s especially concerning (and telling) that three of the Patriots’ biggest offensive additions in recent years are in this tier: receivers Tyquan Thornton, DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster. There’s hope that someone like Atonio Mafi could become a better-than-average starter and climb out of this tier, but most of the guys in this group don’t have much of a chance of rising even into Tier 4.

(Photo of Christian Gonzalez: Eric Canha / USA Today)