For the past few weeks, many have speculated on the manner with which the New England Patriots would approach free agency in 2021. Would they continue with the same malaise as in years past, or would they embrace an ‘uncharacteristic aggression’ in their attempt to improve their club for the upcoming season.
On Monday, the Pats provided their answer. Beginning the day with approximately $65,290,900 in available salary cap space, (credit: Miguel Benzan @patscap) the team would commit north of $190 million to seven free agents, most of which came within hours of the start of the NFL’s legal tampering window. While New England may have been lavish in their spending, each move was targeted toward a position of need; filling voids both on offense and defense. And while it may be too soon to evaluate how each signing will impact the Pats on the field, one thing is certain.
The Patriots are going all in.
In total, New England reached agreements with seven free agents. Although the deals cannot be made official until the start of the League year at 4pm ET on Wednesday, March 17th, here is a look at the newest members of the Patriots:
TE Jonnu Smith
Perhaps the area most in need of assistance on New England’s roster was the tight end position. On Monday, the Pats filled that void in a big way. Smith joins the Pats on a four-year, $50 million contract ($39.25 million guaranteed). The 6’3” 248-pound former Tennessee Titan should provide exactly what the Pats lacked in 2021. Smith is a prototypical move tight end, that will be an effective target in the red zone. He totaled 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns. All eight of those scores came in the red zone. Smith is also a more than capable blocker, making him the needed veteran presence to mentor second-year tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene on the depth chart.
DT Davon Godchaux
One of the most notable difficulties that the Patriots had defensively in 2020 was setting the edge to effectively stop the run. As such, the Pats found a solid scheme fit by adding former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. The 26-year-old agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract with New England. Listed at 310-pounds, he is a bit smaller than the prototypical Patriots note tackle. However, Godchaux brings a level of versatility to the interior of the defensive line. Capable of playing all three tackle positions, he is likely to see the majority of his playing time in the middle. Godchaux could provide production and insurance, should the team be unable to retain the services of free agents Lawrence Guy and/or Adam Butler.
LB Matt Judon
In a move that will certainly bolster their pass rush, the Pats procured the services of former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Matt Judon. He joins the Pats after agreeing to a four-year, $56 million deal. The 28-year-old compiled six sacks and 32 solo tackles in 2020. However, Judon’s fit in New England’s defense can best be described as ‘hand-in-glove.’ Judon is proficient in rushing the passer within the Pats defensive scheme and is equally effective in both defending the run and setting the edge. He is also able to drop into coverage on the line, as well. In Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Judon recorded a sack on Gardner Minshew in the endzone for a safety during the Ravens’ 40–14 win.
DB Jalen Mills
There are few, if any, teams that value versatility in the defensive backfield than the Patriots. New England continued that trend by adding former Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive back Jalen Mills on a four-year, $24 million deal. Mills accounted for 74 combined tackles in 2020, with 1.5 sacks and an interception. He is a versatile defender that is capable of lining up at the cornerback position, or at strong safety, which is where he spent the majority of his 2020 season in Philadelphia.
WR Nelson Agholor
About to enter his seventh year in the NFL, Agholor has been a more-than-serviceable receiver for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Las Vegas Raiders. While he primarily played out of the slot during his time in Philadelphia, he was used primarily on vertical outside routes with the Raiders. It is likely that the Patriots would employ Agholor in the same fashion, taking advantage of his speed and ability to separate over the top. His two-year, $26 million price tag seems a bit high. However, the deeper details of his contract may reveal incentive-based paths to reach the desired amount.
WR Kendrick Bourne
If the Patriots largest void on offense in 2020 was at the tight end position, then the wide receiver position was not far behind. The Pats attempted to rectify that with the signing of former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Bourne and the Pats agreed to a three-year contract, worth a total of $22.5 million. 2020 was the most productive season of his four-year career, in which he totaled 49 receptions and 667 yards. He also caught a pair of touchdowns. Bourne is adept at playing both on the outside and in the slot and should add both youth and versatility to New England’s wide receiver corps.
DL Henry Anderson
Having spent three seasons in the AFC East, former New York Jets defensive lineman Henry Anderson will now make his home in Foxboro. The 29-year-old agreed to a two-year deal, worth up to $11 million. Listed at 6’6” 301 pounds, the 29-year-old posted the third-highest run-stuff rate among players with at least 500 defensive snaps in 2020 (cred: NFL Next Gen Stats) His presence will help to bolster a Patriots line, which had its problems against the run in 2020. Anderson also is also capable of providing assistance with rushing the passer as well, notching seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 2018.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC