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Patriots sit out initial days of NFL free agency despite ample cap room, lack of spending

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Two days into free agency, the Patriots are sitting on the side of the pool.

No splashes. Just dipping their toes in the water, gathering with old friends and waving one goodbye.

Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers agreed to terms on a three-year, $33 million contract Tuesday with Las Vegas, a source confirmed to the Herald. Meyers will receive $21 million guaranteed in his new deal, which fell short of projections for the best wideout available and allows the Raiders to cut ties without penalty next offseason.

The Patriots also re-signed safety Jabrill Peppers and added a new offensive tackle.

But as of late Tuesday night, the Patriots continued to sit out the initial waves of free agency despite holding the fifth-most cap space in the NFL and ranking dead last by 2023 cash spending, per Over The Cap.

Meyers’ departure suddenly leaves the offense with a major hole at wide receiver. Last year, he caught 67 passes for 804 yards and six touchdowns and repeatedly expressed an interest in returning to New England. Meyers has led the Pats in receiving each of the past three seasons, when teammates and coaches often referred to him as one their most dependable and consistent players.

After his deal was reported, the 26-year-old spoke to NFL reporter Josina Anderson and explained his decision to leave New England.

“It’s hard to turn down Las Vegas when you look at their offense, when you look at their coaches. They wanted me, I wanted them,” Meyers said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out with the Patriots. I put a lot of effort in my time there. I appreciate them, but God works in mysterious ways. I’m blessed.”

Without Meyers, the Patriots’ receivers room is down to DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton, plus practice-squad players Tre Nixon and Lynn Bowden Jr. Thornton is the only player of the group under contract past next season. In January, Pats quarterback Mac Jones said he hoped Meyers would re-sign.

“Jakobi’s one of the best, if not the best, teammates I’ve ever had. He’s a great person. He comes to work every day, doesn’t complain. Does everything right. And he deserves everything that’s coming his way,” Jones said. “Hopefully, it’s with us. He means a lot to me.”

As of late Tuesday night, the best remaining free agents at wide receiver were Kansas City’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and Detroit speedster D.J. Chark, who last season signed a one-year, $10 million coming off an injury. The Patriots could also pursue a veteran receiver via trade with Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, and Denver’s Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton reportedly on the block.

Hours after Meyers’ departure, the Patriots agreed terms with their first outside free agent, Broncos offensive tackle Calvin Anderson.

According to the NFL Network, Anderson is signing a two-year deal. He projects as a swing tackle in New England, where Trent Brown is the only proven starter on the roster.

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Anderson, who turns 27 this month, has 11 career starts at left tackle and one at right tackle. Last season, he started seven of his 14 game appearances at left tackle and allowed just two sacks in 289 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Anderson also registered an allowed pressure rate of 3.6% and an average run-blocking grade.

He entered the league as an undrafted rookie with the Patriots in 2019. Soon after his deal was announced, Anderson confirmed his agreement by tweeting, “I remember signing with you after the draft! Everything comes full circle, and I can’t wait to give you everything I have and more. Not much for me to say, but a lot for me to do. Let’s work.”

As for Peppers, he is reportedly returning on a two-year deal after playing an increasingly important role on defense last season. He recorded 60 tackles and a fumble recovery in 17 games over his debut season in New England. Peppers rotated with veterans Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, often playing close to the box. With McCourty retired, Peppers brings crucial depth at a position of strength.

He originally joined the Patriots last offseason on a one-year deal after three seasons with the Giants and two in Cleveland. Coming off an ACL tear, Peppers played his best football down the stretch and made five starts in 2022. The 27-year-old is one of the Pats’ most physical players and a core special teamer who made eight stops in the kicking game last year.

He rejoins Dugger, Phillips, Josh Bledsoe, Brenden Schooler and Brad Hawkins on the team’s safety depth chart. Bryant and newly re-signed cornerback Jonathan Jones also have experience playing safety and could patrol the back end of Bill Belichick’s defense once again in 2023.

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Between their biggest transactions of the day, the Pats tendered restricted free agent defensive back Myles Bryant at a right-of-first-refusal level, per source.

Unless Bryant signs with another team and the Patriots decline to match, he will return on a one-year, $2.6 million contract. Bryant, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2020, is a restricted free agent because his contract expired after he accrued fewer than four years of league service. If he signs an offer sheet from another team, the Patriots can match that offer and retain him or decline and let him walk.

In 17 games last season, Bryant made 70 tackles, broke up six passes and grabbed an interception playing both cornerback and safety. If he returns, he would become the eighth player the Patriots have re-signed this offseason, following Peppers, cornerback Jonathan Jones, special teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, defensive tackle Carl Davis, and offensive linemen Conor McDermott and James Ferentz.

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