The top spenders of the 2021 Free Agency have been pretty quiet so far in this year's period. While that may seem like a step backwards to some, it isn't uncommon for Bill Bellichick to waiver more towards in-house signings than to free agents. Last year was a unicorn of a free agency and there were a lot of reasons for that. First off the Patriots were coming off a 7-9 season in 2020 where they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Second of all, they were getting over dead cap hits from players like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, so they had more money to reallocate than they had since the turn of the century.
Their total signing cost of last year was a staggering $163 million in guaranteed money alone. They used this money to sign some key players for last season like Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Mills. While these moves were helpful and will make the team stronger for the next few years, there was also some questionable moves to say the least. Nelson Agholar signed a $26 million deal over two years with the intention of becoming the number one option for Mac Jones. It's a lot of money per year to a player that did not show any level of play close to the $13 million he made for it but at least it's a short deal and after next year it'll be off the books.
Another huge get for the Patriots was Jonnu Smith. Smith was one of the biggest signings in the entire NFL last year, with $50 million dollars over four years. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and all but having also signed Hunter Henry in the same week as Smith, it's clear to see that the Patriots were making sure they got a starting caliber tight end. The problem now however is that with Henry taking that role, you're now paying a backup tight end $12.5 million a year. Smith is a decent blocker and his speed allows him to line up in the slot on mixed packages, but this no where makes up for being the 4th-highest paid player on the team.
Any team that is active in free agency is going to have their good moves and their bad ones especially when you are as active as the Patriots were. The important thing is they got four great starters for three years or more in Judon, Henry, Bourne and Mills, plus a number of good players on very cheap deals like Davon Godchaux, ted Karras and Kyle Van Noy. The players that they overpaid for or are not using as much as their contract would indicate can be moved around in the coming years or just traded for extra draft capitol.
So where does that leave us for this year's free agency period?
The Patriots obviously didn't have as much money to work with, starting the period with just over $10 million to work with. Their first signing, or re-signing was also their best, resigning offensive tackle Trent Brown for a very team friendly $13 million over two years. They would also bring back linebacker Ja-Whaun Bentley for $3 million over 2 years. These two moves were done quickly as to not let any more starters test the waters with other teams, like their biggest lost cornerback JC Jackson who got his huge pay day in Los Angeles.
The acquisitions they have gone out and made are no where near the headliners form last year. Two good depth pieces in the defensive secondary are cornerback Terrance Mitchell formerly from Houston, and safety Jabrill Peppers who was most recently in the Giants organization. These players are both "Bill Belichick guys". They are versatile and lengthy, with the ability to cover a lot of ground, and most importantly they will be used in the Patriots scheme as hidden gems similar to Logan Ryan and Eric Rowe during their stints in New England.
We knew this team was in their final phase of rebuilding and that's exactly what their showing this offseason period. Last year they went out and got a new quarterback, weapons for him to throw to and bolstered their offensive and defensive lines. This year, they are focusing on bringing back those pieces they can continue to win with that won't break their salary cap while adding depth to the groups that most need it. Bill has done this once or twice and knows a thing about quick rebuilds, and it seems like in his third season post-Tom Brady Bill has already completed his turn around. While the Patriots window to Super Bowl number seven seems to be lengthy with Mac Jones turning 24 at the start of next season, with the current roster's average age and contract length, the Patriots are in win now mode for the next three seasons.
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Make sure to check us out for more Patriots offseason moves as we continue our coverage of the 2022 NFL offseason all the way to the start of next season.