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Patriots free agent grades: Making sense of Bill Belichick’s surprise splurge in free agency


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Bill Belichick and the Patriots had loads of cash below the wage cap to spend in 2021 NFL free agency. They weren’t about to let Tom Brady and the Buccaneers personal the highlight in the open market.

While Tampa Bay has labored to maintain so much of key items from its Super Bowl 55-winning staff, New England has gotten busy attempting to overtake its roster. Since the decision to re-sign QB Cam Newton for one yr at $14 million late final week, the Patriots have targeted their assets on upgrading offense greater than the protection.

That makes sense, as they have been each No. 27 in yardage and scoring final season. Lowlighted by up-and-down play from Newton in a unfamiliar scheme, it is the most important motive why the Patriots completed 7-9 in 2020, ending their 11-season playoff streak that was tied to Brady. At the identical time, protection and particular groups now have change into a stronger spine.

But how a lot high quality did the the Patriots get from the excessive early amount of free brokers? Here’s a have a look at whom New England added and grading the way it did total:

MORE: SN’s latest mock draft | Big board of top 50 prospects

Patriots free agent signings 2021

  • TE Hunter Henry (3 years, $37.5 million)
  • TE Jonnu Smith (4 years, $50 million)
  • WR Kendrick Bourne (3 years, $22.5 million)
  • WR Nelson Agholor
  • OLB Matthew Judon (4 years, $56 million)
  • DE Deatrich Wise (re-signed for 4 years, $30 million)
  • DT Davon Godchaux (2 years, $16 million)
  • DE/DT Henry Anderson (2 years)
  • S Jalen Mills (4 years, $24 million)
  • DB Justin Bethel (re-signed for 3 years, $6 million)

What has been the Patriots’ greatest transfer in NFL free agency?

They waited till the morning after the primary wave, but it surely was grabbing Henry, the most effective tight finish obtainable, to pair with Smith. They first tabled their pursuit of changing Rob Gronkowski at tight finish, selecting to solely draft Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi. Now they’ve a participant who greatest resembles Gronkowski’s talent set as an inline blocker and athletic receiver when wholesome at a Gronk-like 6-5, 250 kilos.

Smith would have been OK alone as an improve, however Henry places the Patriots excessive in the potential utilization of impactful “12” (two tight finish) personnel once more, figuring out Newton operates greatest with a minimum of one tight finish as his true go-to man.. Henry and Smith additionally come from sturdy operating methods which is able to give Josh McDaniels good down-to-down versatility for his play-calling out of similiar seems and assist Newton in one other manner.

Newton was brief on legit weapons in his first season with the Patriots and the tight finish was non-existent in the passing recreation. This is an entire, wanted 180 to raised rebuild Newton as a short-to-intermediate passer to play off his operating.

MORE: Follow SN’s live grades on every NFL free agent signing, trade

Patriots free agency grades on offense

Henry and Smith have been the headliners and on condition that mixed long-term funding, the Patriots additionally could not spend massive at wideout. So they settled for Bourne, the previous 49er who’s their ideally suited route-runner of all trades and Agholor, who as soon as aced it in the slot for the Eagles earlier than stunning as a field-stretcher for the Raiders in a rebound 2020.


Bourne and Agholor appear to be extra interchangeable items, both for depth or contingency, for N’Keal Harry, Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd. However you have a look at it, even with out a massive identify, Newton has two extra viable wideout choices now in case of extra incumbent ineffectiveness or harm. Skill-player smart, on high of the operating backs, the Patriots have gone from remedial to a number of notches above respectable. Grade: A

Patriots free agency grades on protection

The Patriots’ greatest splash right here was Judon. He has been a disruptive pass-rusher and lively playmaker for the Ravens, however he is additionally not damaged by for a double-digit sack season but. New England might need overspent hoping he can peak in their system and complement Chase Winovich properly on the second stage.

Godchaux, from Brian Flores’ system, shores up the nostril for run protection. Wise was a key maintain for his place versatility in Belichick’s entrance. Anderson, Mills and Bethel are all Patriots’ varieties of rotational position gamers. Between all their defensive kids and veterans Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung coming back from decide outs, there are lot of items on the board for Belichick to govern in his hybrid scheme. The Patriots did additionally enhance defensively, but it surely’s not as dramatic because the change on offense. Grade: B

MORE: Ranking the NFL’s top 50 free agents by position

Who did the Patriots lose in NFL free agency?

  • G/T Joe Thuney (signed with Chiefs for five years, $80 million)

This cannot be forgotten. The Patriots did re-acquire proper deal with Trent Brown in a commerce with the Raiders, however in addition they misplaced the most effective free-agent guard to the AFC champions, who need to overhaul their entrance for Patrick Mahomes. New England wants massive years from Brown, left deal with Isaiah Wynn and middle David Andrews to offset the sturdy blocking loss.

Are the Patriots now a playoff-caliber staff in the AFC once more?

That’s a troublesome query to reply this early. The Bills for now stay a greater staff and wager to take the AFC East once more as a result of of a rising Josh Allen vs. reviving Newton. At 7-9 final season, the Patriots have been 4 video games out of a wild-card spot in a loaded AFC the place the Ravens, Browns and Colts all made the playoffs at 11-5. The 10-6 Dolphins have been additionally three video games forward of the Patriots in the division. The Patriots have been tied for the tenth greatest report in the convention with the Chargers.

This is assuming a couple of of the powers falter and groups such because the Dolphins, Raiders and Chargers do not additionally get higher. There’s nonetheless so much uncertainty over the play of Newton.

Splurging in NFL free agency would not assure a large spike outcomes. The Patriots pushed themselves to a minimum of climb again above .500 with on paper, a good power of schedule for 2021. They are significantly better positioned for a 9-or-10 win ground, however they’ve much more work to do in the draft and relaxation of the offseason to push the ceiling towards the true AFC contenders.



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