Patriots' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 22, 2021

Patriots' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

0 of 4

    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    No team has been busier since the NFL's free-agency period began last week than the New England Patriots. They entered the offseason with a ton of cap space, and then they went on a spending spree, addressing numerous holes they had on their roster.

    The Pats have added new playmakers to their offense and addressed some needs on defense. And they still have $9.86 million of available cap space (according to Over the Cap) to use if they want to bring in any other players. Plus, New England will also bolster its roster via the 2021 NFL draft.

    After going 7-9 and missing the playoffs in 2020, the Patriots could be looking to avoid a rebuild and quickly turn things back around in 2021. Will these moves pay off and help New England get back into the postseason next season? It will be interesting to see.

    Here's a look at the players who the Patriots have added during free agency so far, along with grades for several of their key early-offseason decisions.

Free-Agent Additions

1 of 4

    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    LB Matt Judon: four years, $54.5 million

    TE Jonnu Smith: four years, $50 million

    TE Hunter Henry: three years, $37.5 million

    S Jalen Mills: four years, $24 million

    WR Nelson Agholor: two years, $22 million

    DT Davon Godchaux: two years, $15 million

    WR Kendrick Bourne: three years, $15 million

    LB Kyle Van Noy: two years, $12 million

    DE Henry Anderson: two years, $7 million

    C Ted Karras: one year, $4 million

    DE Montravius Adams: one year, $2.5 million

    LB Raekwon McMillan: one year, unknown terms

    Moves via ESPN's Mike Reiss. Contract info via Spotrac.

Newton Could Get Opportunity for Bounce-Back Season

2 of 4

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Before free agency began, the Patriots decided to give quarterback Cam Newton another chance in 2021. They gave the 31-year-old a one-year deal for the second straight offseason, this year's being worth "up to $13.6 million," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Newton spent his first nine NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers before heading to New England last offseason. He didn't have great results with the Patriots, passing for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games (although he added 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground).

    Part of the reason for that could be Newton's offensive supporting cast. The Patriots didn't have many top playmakers for Newton to utilize, and the unit struggled as a whole. While Newton may never return to his NFL MVP form of 2015, he could play better than he did last season, especially now that he's more familiar with New England's offense.

    Maybe the Pats will still draft a quarterback early in the 2021 NFL draft and move on if Newton begins to struggle. For now, it's tough to judge whether this was a smart signing until we see which version of Newton shows up in 2021. There's potential for this to go either way, but it makes sense for New England to at least find out how Newton fares with an improved offense around him.

    Grade: C

Offense Has Been Overhauled with Playmakers

3 of 4

    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    The Patriots got little production from their tight ends in 2020, so it was clear they needed to sign one of the top available players at the position during free agency. Instead, they signed two.

    Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry each inked big deals with New England, and it gives the team's offense a completely different look heading into 2021. The Pats have had success in the past when they've incorporated two strong tight ends in their passing attack, so maybe it will work well again over the next few seasons.

    Smith set career highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (448) and touchdowns (nine) last season, his fourth with the Tennessee Titans. Henry also had a solid year, notching 60 receptions for 613 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, his most in a season since 2017 as he had dealt with injuries in recent years.

    Not only did the Patriots add the top two tight ends on the market, but they brought in wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne last week. Agholor had a breakout year with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020, while Bourne has flashed his potential at times over his first four NFL seasons.

    These were all moves that improved New England's offense, and ones that the team needed to make. The Pats should take steps forward on that side of the ball next season.

    Grade: A

Defensive Front Seven Improved by Additions

4 of 4

    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Without making a move, the Patriots' defense got better when they learned linebacker Dont'a Hightower (who opted out of the 2020 season) would be returning in 2021. Then they went out and made some other additions that will likely benefit their front seven next season.

    New England added a solid pass rusher in defensive end/linebacker Matt Judon, who had 34.5 sacks in 76 games over his five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He'll be 29 when the 2021 season arrives, and he's been consistent throughout his career thus far.

    The Patriots also reunited with linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who played for them from 2016-19 and had 16.5 sacks in 51 games over that time. He didn't quite live up to expectations last season for the Miami Dolphins, but he was a low-risk signing for New England who could end up paying dividends.

    Another low-risk move made by the Pats was the signing of linebacker Raekwon McMillan, a former first-round draft pick. After two seasons in Miami and one in Las Vegas, the 25-year-old McMillan could benefit from a fresh start, and he has the potential to still be a solid player in the future.

    Judon is a big addition, and the others could end up working well, too. So the Patriots' defense should be improved next season, especially on the front.

    Grade: A-