The New England Patriots have been the busiest team in free agency, throwing a combined $137.5 million in guaranteed money at their new signings. Bill Belichick had money to spend and, in an offseason where most teams were struggling for cap space, used the opportunity to completely revamp the roster. The Patriots are a much better team than they were just a few weeks ago, but which deals should give the best return on investment?
Ranking New England Patriots Free Agent Signings From Best to Worst
Best: David Andrews
The David Andrews contract is easily one of the best signings in free agency – not just for the Patriots, but for the league at large. Andrews is one of the best centers in the league, and the he took a massive pay cut to stick around in Foxboro. According to @patscap, Andrews’ deal ranks 18th among centers in average per year and 23rd in cap hit. He’s a top-10 player at his position getting paid like a fringe starter. New England will have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and Andrews’ team-friendly contract will be a big reason for that success.
The Patriots had to pay up for Jonnu Smith, but he is worth the investment. The move tight end is one of the best in the league after the catch, can line up all over the formation, and can hold his own in the trenches. After dealing with the worst group of tight ends over the past two years, New England now has a reliable starter that should be in line for a career season.
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy is at his best with the Patriots, and New England acquired the linebacker for a very reasonable cost. The former second-round pick carries just a $4.4 million cap hit in 2021, and he is well worth that minimal cost. Reunited with Dont’a Hightower, this duo should solidify New England’s run defense while also providing an extra edge to New England’s pass rush.
When was the last time a team acquired the best two free agents at their respective position? While Smith can move all around the formation, Henry is more of a traditional tight end. Together, this duo can form a poor mans’ version of the Rob Gronkowski – Aaron Hernandez tandem of 2010-2012. Now, Henry and Smith obviously won’t be THAT unstoppable in New England, but this duo should be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Cam Newton wasn’t good last year, but you can’t place all the blame on him for falling short in terrible circumstances. Newton’s one-year deal is essentially that of a high-end backup, which is still a great value for a top-20ish quarterback. Historically, Newton has been at his best throwing to pass-catching tight ends and guys that can stretch the field. The Patriots have added guys that fit those descriptions, so Newton should have a fair chance of succeeding in the upcoming season. Winning the division is still a tall ask, but Newton should be good enough to pilot this revamped roster into a wild card spot.
Henry Anderson is a prototypical Patriot, and fans and media alike have been expecting this connection to come to fruition for quite some time. Bill Belichick appears to be trying to build more of a 3-4 defense this offseason, and Anderson’s 6’-6”, 310-pound frame makes him a perfect fit along the defensive line. While he doesn’t do much as a pass rusher (his 2018 season notwithstanding), he’s a solid starter playing on a very reasonable deal.
Matthew Judon is a good player getting paid like a great one. However, signings like this are very common in free agency, and Judon is a perfect fit for the Patriots scheme. The former Baltimore Raven only carries a $6.375 million cap hit in 2021, but that number jumps to $16.5 in 2022. It’s a little pricey for a good-but-not-great pass rusher, but it’s a deal that clearly had no effect on New England’s long-term spending habits.
Deatrich Wise played well over the duration of his rookie contract, and his incentive-heavy new deal implies that the Patriots believe the best is yet to come. Wise’s best seasons with New England came when they used a heavier front, and the Patriots seem to be returning to that philosophy in 2021. It stands to reason that Wise could be in for a career year with better talent and scheme around him.
The Patriots have a fantastic starting offensive line, but injuries are inevitable at the position. Fortunately, the Karras signing gives the Patriots a starting-caliber backup that can fill in if and when injury strikes. If one of the interior linemen go down, Karras can simply slide into the vacated role. If one of the tackles get hurt, Michael Onwenu can go out wide while Karras fills in at left guard. There is no such thing as too much depth along the offensive line, and Karras is one of the best backups in the league.
Kendrick Bourne’s contract has a high value if all incentives are met, but is essentially a one-year, $5.9 million deal with a $3.1 million cap hit. This is still a bit of an overpay, considering the state of the wide receiver market and the fact that Bourne’s strengths are very similar to that of Jakobi Meyers. However, this team needs more help at receiver, and any influx of talent is a welcome addition.
New England had one of the worst run defenses in the league last year, and Godchaux should help that issue. The former Miami Dolphin is a non-factor against the pass, but is more than capable of eating up double teams and freeing up linebackers. However, a player like this simply isn’t all that valuable in today’s pass-happy NFL. Godchaux carries a $4 million cap hit in 2021, but that number jumps to $10.25 million in 2021 with $5.25 million in dead money. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots restructure this deal in a years’ time.
The Jalen Mills contract makes more sense following Patrick Chung’s retirement, but this is still something of a head-scratcher. Mills spent four years with the Philadelphia Eagles, but never really looked like a good player. He was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league before transitioning to safety, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire at his new position. Still, this is a very cheap deal for New England and Belichick has a history of getting the most out of players like this.
Nelson Agholor is the only one of the Patriots signings that I do not like. Last year at this point, Agholor was coming off an atrocious season and could only earn a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. He was bad for the vast majority of his time in Philadelphia, but somehow one year of uncharacteristically good play makes him worthy of this type of contract? Pro Football Focus already wrote an excellent piece on why Agholor’s contract probably won’t work out, so I won’t waste time doing so here. Bill Belichick had to expect the wide receiver market to be more competitive, as there is no way Nelson Agholor’s cap hit should only be $3.5 million less than Will Fuller’s in 2021.
Depth/Special Teams Signings: Montravius Adams, Carl Davis, Justin Bethel, Raekwon McMillan, Cody Davis, Nick Folk
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