Analyzing the New England Patriots hectic start to free agency

The dust appears to have at least temporarily settled on the New England Patriots free agent frenzy, and there is certainly a lot of action to unpack. The Patriots have signed or resigned 22 players so far, and brought in another (Trent Brown) through a trade as well. With the action having slowed down over the past couple of days, it seems like a good time to take a deeper look at what coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have done over the past week or so. Let’s start off with the biggest signing that will immediately fill one of the biggest holes on the roster.

Matthew Judon, Linebacker – 4 Years, $56 Million

The Patriots lured Judon away from the Baltimore Ravens with this huge deal, which also includes $32 million in guaranteed money. Judon is an elite edge rusher who can consistently create pressure on the QB, even if he doesn’t always end up bringing him down. Judon only had 6 sacks last season, but he had 32 QB pressures, so he was still making life difficult for opposing QB’s even when he wasn’t getting sacks. Judon’s 32 pressures last season were actually more than he had in his previous season when he picked up 9.5 sacks, and he even missed two games this season, so he definitely still was a force of havoc despite the lower sack total. His pass rushing abilities will be a welcome sight on a Patriots defense that only managed 24 sacks last season, so expect Judon to make an immediate impact next season.

Jonnu Smith, Tight End – 4 Years, $50 Million

Belichick kicked off the legal tampering period with a bang by locking up Smith to a 4 year deal that includes $31.25 million in guaranteed money. With a deep pool of pass catching threats on the free agent market, the Patriots were expected to be major players for most of them heading into free agency, and proved they weren’t messing around with this deal for Smith early on. Smith had easily his best season as a pro, as he set new career highs in just about every major statistical category he could. Smith really made his presence known in the red zone, as he had nine touchdowns on the season (8 receiving, 1 rushing), and all of them came in the red zone. Despite a hot start to the season, Smith was clearly hobbled by injuries towards the end of the season, and wasn’t really himself by the season’s close. The Patriots are banking on Smith coming back healthy and providing the Pats with a go-to red zone option that they lacked last season.

Hunter Henry, Tight End – 3 Years, $37.5 Million

On the second day of the legal tampering period, the Patriots dipped back into the tight end market to lock up Hunter Henry, which meant Belichick locked up the two best tight ends available. Henry gets $25 million guaranteed on his deal, and the Patriots have their tight end crew set for the next couple of years with Henry and Smith now. Henry formed a solid rapport with Los Angeles Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert this past season, and turned into a safety valve of sorts for the young passer. While Henry finished with the most receptions of his career, his yards per reception was the lowest of his career. This isn’t meant to be shown as a bad thing, as it shows how Henry can succeed in different parts of the field as a pass catcher, which means defenses have to worry about him no matter where he is on the field. Henry is seen as more of a pass catching tight end than Smith, and the Patriots will look to utilize his pass catching talents in a variety of ways this upcoming season.

Deatrich Wise Jr., Defensive End – 4 Years, $30 Million

Heading into free agency, it seemed like there was decent chance that Wise and the Patriots would be moving on from each other, as the Patriots were known to be looking to upgrade their defensive line from last season. However, the Patriots quickly resigned Wise once free agency started, and he gets $10 million guaranteed to stay with New England for the next four seasons. Wise has steadily improved over this first four seasons in New England, as he’s gone from being used almost strictly as a pass rusher to being able to be used as more of a three-down lineman. Wise had 49 tackles last season, which was easily a career high, while also picking up 2.5 sacks as well. Wise’s ability to improve as a run defender has certainly caught Belichick’s eye, and he paid him handsomely to stick around in New England. Look for Wise to continue to improve, especially with all the new additions New England has made to their front seven recently.

Nelson Agholor, Wide Receiver – 2 Years, $26 Million

After getting run out of Philadelphia, Agholor signed a one-year prove it deal with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, and easily turned in his best season in the NFL, allowing him to cash in with New England. Agholor picked up the most yards of his career with 896, and tied his career high in touchdowns with eight. Agholor was used more as a deep threat in Las Vegas than he had been in Philadelphia, as the average pass to Agholor last season was 15 yards down the field. New England lacked a true deep threat last season, and Agholor’s speed certainly helps him fit the bill for a deep threat. Agholor has struggled with drops throughout his career, which is a big reason why Philadelphia moved on from their former first round pick last season. This also seems like a lot of money to hand out to a receiver who has been inconsistent at best throughout his career. Despite this being a somewhat risky deal, Agholor presents significant upside for a wide receiver group that struggled mightily last season, and his downfield presence should help out the Patriots offense.

Jalen Mills, Safety – 4 Years, $24 Million

The Patriots anticipated Patrick Chung’s impending retirement by snatching up Mills early on in free agency. Mills gets $9 million guaranteed to come in and help replace Chung, and is another versatile weapon in the secondary who Belichick can use to his advantage. Mills started off his career at cornerback before switching into a free safety this past season with Philadelphia, and he responded by having a solid bounce back season. After missing a combined 15 games the past two seasons, Mills only missed one game this past season, and was a solid piece to the Eagles secondary. Mills was all over the place in the Eagles secondary, as he had the most tackles of his career, played arguably the best coverage of his career, and was occasionally used in the linebacker/safety hybrid role that’s taking NFL defense by storm, allowing him to pick up 1.5 sacks last season. Mills fits a similar profile as recent secondary additions Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, and should be a solid addition to the Patriots already strong secondary.

Kendrick Bourne, Wide Receiver – 3 Years, $22.5 Million

Shortly after signing Agholor, the Patriots quickly moved to add Bourne to their squad, and locked up the young receiver formerly from the San Francisco 49ers. Bourne took advantage of the 49ers being absolutely killed by the injury bug last season by putting up the best numbers of his young career. Bourne posted career highs in receptions and yards, and developed into a solid WR3 for the 49ers when he was called upon. While he rarely started, Bourne would come in and offer quarterbacks a consistent option due to his solid route running and his ability to create separation. While Bourne got boxed out by the number of receiving options returning to San Fran next season, he should be a solid addition to the Patriots receiving core.

David Andrews, Center – 4 Years, $21 Million

It seemed all but certain that Andrews would be departing in free agency, as people close to Andrews claimed he wouldn’t be resigning with New England. Even Julian Edelman posted a farewell tribute on his Instagram page, only for the star lineman to reverse course and end up resigning with New England. Andrews is coming back to New England on a relatively team friendly deal that will guarantee him $6.5 million, and when you compare it to some of the other deals offensive linemen have gotten so far this offseason, you have to love this deal for Andrews. Andrews value was really seen during the 2019-20 season that he missed when he had blood clots in his lungs, as the o-line’s production notably fell off from their previous Super Bowl level of play. Andrews returned last season and didn’t really miss a beat, and his return is a huge win for the Pats. Andrews will slot back into the starting center position, and New England’s o-line looks good to go for next season.

Davon Godchaux, Defensive Tackle – 2 Years, $16 Million

The Patriots pried Godchaux away from the Miami Dolphins early on in free agency, and gave him $9 million guaranteed to come up to Foxboro. Godchaux had a couple of solid seasons in Miami before missing most of last season due to injury, and the Patriots are clearly banking on Godchaux returning to his previous form for them. Godchaux will come in and look to shore up the Patriots run defense that allowed opposing running backs to have big games way too often last season. Godchaux is a big body who can clog up running lanes in the middle of the line, and if he doesn’t make the tackle, it makes life easier for the linebackers behind him. With Adam Butler moving on from New England, Godchaux offers a high upside replacement who will help address a high ranking area of need.

Kyle Van Noy, Linebacker – 2 Years, $13.2 Million

Van Noy was released by the Dolphins after just one season of his four year deal, paving the way for a reunion in New England. After struggling early on his career with the Detroit Lions, Van Noy came to New England and thrived, so it makes sense that a return was made possible. Van Noy has developed into a solid all around linebacker, and his return will be much welcome for a team that was left perilously thin at linebacker once Dont’a Hightower opted out for the season. Van Noy can create pressure on opposing QB’s, hold his own in coverage, and sniff out run plays before they can even get started. For the money involved in the deal, this seems like a huge win for both sides involved.

Cam Newton, Quarterback – 1 Year, $13.6 Million

We already discussed this deal in more depth, but will touch on it briefly again here. Newton resigned with New England on an incentive laden deal before free agency officially began, and it signaled that the Patriots could be headed towards getting him more help. in free agency While they certainly did get Newton some additional help, it doesn’t seem like they are done adding to the quarterback position, and it seems very likely they will add another in the draft at this point. Either way, Newton seems to have the inside track at being the Pats starter come next season.

Henry Anderson, Defensive Tackle – 2 Years, $7 Million

The Patriots continued adding to their interior defensive line by adding Anderson to their squad. Formerly of the New York Jets, Anderson offers some versatility across the line, which isn’t something other players at the position can offer. Anderson has proven to be a competent rotational player on the line during his time with the Jets, as he can hold his own in the pass rush and the run game when called upon. Anderson racked up seven sacks during the 2018 season while playing all over the line, showcasing his versatility when called upon. Anderson won’t come in and pick up a starting spot, but he should be able to come in off the bench and hold his own, while giving some of the other guys on the line a rest.

Justin Bethel, Cornerback – 3 Years, $6 Million

A deal that flew under the radar was the resigning of Bethel, as he resigned at around the same time as Newton did. Resigning Bethel helps New England keep their special teams duo of Bethel and Matthew Slater in place for next season atleast, as Slater appears to be nearing the end of his career. Bethel led the Patriots with 14 special teams tackles last season, and he primarily earns his money on punt coverage, where he and Slater formed one of the best pairs in the league. Resigning Bethel covers the Patriots in the event Slater does retire, and helps them keep their special teams units in tact.

Ted Karras, Center – 1 Year, $4 Million

Karras is back with New England after just one season in Miami. At the time, Karras’ signing was seen as an admission that David Andrews wouldn’t be returning, and it looked like Karras was lined up as his replacement at the center position. Now that Andrews has returned, Karras will stick around as the Patriots top backup on the o-line for the time being, as he can play both guard positions as well as center. Injuries are always going to happen, especially in a position as physical as the o-line, and having Karras as an insurance policy is a reassuring sign that the offensive line is in good hands.

James White, Running Back – 1 Year, $2.5 Million

White returns to New England on a cheap deal to reprise his role as New England’s lead passing back, and this solidifies the running back group for New England. White’s deal is fully guaranteed, which is likely due to the fact New England knows exactly what they are getting with him. White’s role was somewhat reduced last season due to New England’s offensive playstyle shifting due to Tom Brady’s departure, but he still had a relatively productive season. With the Patriots revamping their offense, look for White to reemerge as a solid safety option in year 2 of the Cam Newton led offense.

Montravius Adams, Defensive Tackle – 1 Year, $2.5 Million

The Patriots seem to be taking a flier on Adams here in another attempt to help shore up their interior defensive line positions. Adams was a third round pick of the Green Bay Packers who never really panned out for them, as he never really produced much in the opportunities given to him. The Patriots are renowned for taking other teams outcasts and turning them into valuable contributors (ex. Kyle Van Noy), and that’s what this deal for Adams could become. If he ends up turning into a valuable piece, it’s a huge win, but if not, New England can get out of this deal without much financial obligation.

Nick Folk, Kicker – 1 Year, $2.5 Million

The Patriots went into last season unsure of what to expect from veteran kicker Nick Folk, only for Folk to have the most efficient season his career. Folk went 26/28 on his field goal last season, and provided New England with a pair of game winning kicks in the process. The Patriots still don’t really have a suitable follow up plan at kicker for the time being, which made it seem likely Folk would resign. Folk will look to continue his consistency this upcoming season, while the Patriots look to find their kicker of the future.

Carl Davis, Defensive Tackle – 1 Year, $1.127 Million

Davis was signed off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad last season, and appeared in three games before suffering a concussion that would end his season. Davis showed enough to the point where it seemed likely that he would return on a cheap deal so that the Patriots could see what they have in him. Davis does have some versatility along the line, which is something the Patriots definitely like, but in a now crowded defensive line, it may be tough for Davis to break through and stick on the roster.

Raekwon McMillan, Linebacker – 1 Year, $1.148 Million

McMillan fits the bill as another low cost, high upside deal that Bill Belichick loves to capitalize on. McMillan was a second round pick of the Dolphins that never really panned out. He was traded to the Raiders last season and failed to make much of an impact, leading to him being available at a low price for the Pats. McMillan has typically played as an inside linebacker for the start of his career, and even picked up 105 tackles in his first full season, so there’s clearly some untapped potential here. The question now becomes whether or not McMillan can stand out in a crowded linebacker group and make the final roster.

Cody Davis, Safety – 1 Year, $1.1 Million

Davis emerged as another key member of the Patriots special teams unit last season, and his return seemed quite likely. He played the most special teams snaps of anybody on the team, and made a couple of key plays throughout the season to help earn him this deal. Bringing back Davis helps ensure the Patriots will remain one of the top special teams units in the league

Lawrence Guy, Defensive Tackle – Undisclosed Terms

While it’s not official yet, the Patriots are closing in on resigning Guy to a four year deal, with a physical being the only roadblock left to get through. With all the other pieces the Patriots have added to their line, it seemed to cloud up Guy’s chances at returning to New England, but Guy will now join the loaded group and is set to be the anchor of the line. Guy’s impact was most notable when he wasn’t on the field, as the Patriots struggled mightily against the run when he wasn’t on the field to counter it. Guy is a phenomenal run defender, who can also contribute in the pass rush when he’s called upon too. Adding Guy back is a huge victory for the Patriots, as they retain their best run defender on the line, and will have a leader for the new signings to follow in order to try to strengthen the d-line.

LaRoy Reynolds, Linebacker – Undisclosed Terms

Reynolds gives New England another core special teamer who will look to carve out a role for himself in Foxboro. Reynolds has bounced around the league, never really finding a long term home, which is partly due to his inability to create a spot for himself on the defensive side of the game. Reynolds has the ability to produce some big hits, but has struggled with many of the other aspects of the game defensively. If Reynolds finds his way on the roster, it will most likely be as a special teams contributor.

Trent Brown, Tackle – Traded from Las Vegas Raiders

The Patriots traded for Brown just before the start of free agency, which seemed to indicate they were moving on from Joe Thuney. Brown turned his successful 2018 season into a big contract with the Raiders, but he was unable to continue his production out west, leading to him getting dealt back to New England. Brown is a massive dude, and when he’s playing up to his potential, he’s very tough to get by. Brown will probably slide into the left tackle position while Isaiah Wynn will move over to left guard. While losing Thuney certainly hurts, getting a player they are familiar with in Trent Brown should help them moving forward.

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