It’s been a long, long, long time since Patriots fans had to worry about their favorite players jumping ship to join a better squad like Tampa Bay, but this could be the offseason where it begins to happen. Unless Coach Belichick gets his hands on a very promising quarterback before September, there’s reason to think that 2021 will be another restructuring year in New England.

As the offseason starts to get moving, many eyes have been on the Pats’ free agent list. While the team does have among the most cap space to work with, and thus could afford to re-sign a lot of players, this means Belichick could just as easily sign players from around the league to replace those who leave. 

If there’s any likely destination for free agent Patriots, it has to be Tampa Bay. A Super Bowl winning team in the league’s nicest climate, helmed by your old teammate, the greatest QB in history? I’d take it.

So, who might team up with Tommy?

Julian Edelman, WR
Julian Edelman disguising himself as a Steeler

First of all, let’s get this out of the way – Edelman isn’t even a free agent. He has one year left on his contract, and unless Belichick is committed to continuing the rebuild, he probably won’t want to release one of his most reliable veterans. 

Additionally, the Buccaneers are more than complete at the WR position, with their WR4 in Scotty Miller capable of being New England’s WR1. As much as Brady likes Edelman, I think even he would admit that he wouldn’t play a big role in their offense.

It’s basically NFL fanfiction; as much as some like to dream about Edelman and Brady being reunited, it just doesn’t make sense.

James White, RB

Here’s a move that does make sense. James White is indeed a free agent, and he’s on the back end of his career. While still talented, by the next time the Pats make a Super Bowl run, he may not be a big factor, if one at all.

We know how much Tom Brady loves James White, so the interest is there on both sides. The most important context here, in my opinion, are each team’s current RB rooms.

The Buccaneers have two leading backs in Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. While both solid players, they both fill a power back role instead of the Christian McCaffrey-esque pass catching role. Given Jones and Fournette’s struggles with drops, Tampa Bay needs someone like James White to give their backfield a new dynamic.

While White’s valuable to New England, they do have a running back that can receive pretty well in Rex Burkhead. The Patriots can afford to lose White, and I’m sure Tampa Bay would love to have him. Speaking of which…

Rex Burkhead, RB
Could Rex Burkhead join the Tampa Bay backfield?
Photo Credits: David Butler II/USA Today Sports

Fellow RB Rex Burkhead also finds himself a free agent coming into 2021. We can combine this dilemma with James White’s; New England can spare a versatile back while the Bucs would love one

With the emergence of Damien Harris as a reliable rushing weapon, the Pats might figure they can choose between resigning Burkhead or White rather than both. We’ll see what they do.

Joe Thuney, Guard

One of the most important free agents on the Pats is Joe Thuney, who’s been a rock-solid offensive lineman in his time in NE. However, he hasn’t been able to reach a deal for an extension with the team, perhaps because of Belichick’s stinginess with large contracts.

Fortunately for the Patriots, their offensive line has found some unexpected depth in players like Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron. The team will probably feel comfortable letting Thuney go if they have faith in the line going forward.

As for Tampa Bay, though, they might not need him. With one of the league’s best offensive lines and only an average amount of cap space, they should save their money for something else instead of pursuing a lineman. Thuney may leave the Patriots, but I’d be surprised to see him migrate to Florida.

Damiere Byrd, WR

Tom Brady will not be interested in signing Damiere Byrd.

Terrence Brooks, S
Photo Credits: Lynne Sladky/ASSOCIATED PRESS

I’ve neglected to mention defensive players thus far, mostly because – as we saw in the Super Bowl – Tampa Bay’s defense doesn’t need any restructuring. However, their safety position could use some depth to support Antoine Winfield Jr, and Brooks might be the right fit for them.

The Patriots have Patrick Chung returning from his opt-out to join Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. Belichick may be perfectly satisfied with that safety crew, letting Brooks sign elsewhere following his season of filling in.

That said, he’s only been on the team since 2019… does anyone know if Terrence Brooks and Tom Brady have even met? Maybe he’ll want to go to Tampa just to say hello to Tom.

Whether or not some (or all) of these players leave in free agency largely depends on Bill Belichick the GM. If he treats this like a rebuilding year, I can see a lot of players flocking to the south. Although, if he has a plan up his sleeve to pick up an elite quarterback, the band could stay together for another playoff push.

Is, uh, is Aaron Rodgers leaving Green Bay yet?

For more NFL news and analysis go to Belly Up Sports or follow @bellyupsports. For more articles and idle thoughts about sports, check out my Twitter @zacksphatstacks.

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