Patriots' Free-Agent Signings Who Will Make Biggest Impact Next Season
The New England Patriots went all-in on free agency to build a stronger offense around Cam Newton.
The free-agent shopping was most intensive at wide receiver and tight end, where the Patriots brought in a pair of veteran players.
Hunter Henry and Nelson Agholor are expected to have the biggest impact of the four additions. Jonnu Smith and Kendrick Bourne could be key pieces as well in supporting roles.
New England also attempted to improve its defense by landing Matthew Judon from the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite all the additions, the Patriots will not be viewed as the favorite to win the AFC East, but what the free-agent signings should allow is for them to be more competitive with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the 2021 NFL season.
The Patriots struggled to get any consistency out of the tight end position in the first year without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
Ryan Izzo was the team's most effective tight end in 2020 with 13 catches on 20 receptions and 199 receiving yards.
Those totals are nowhere close to good enough for a team with a quarterback who is not the best at throwing the deep ball.
The Patriots needed a player like Henry to run routes and catch balls across the middle so Newton does not have to force throws down the field and to the outside on every possession.
Henry averaged over 10 yards per catch in each of his healthy seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, and he found the end zone on nine occasions in the last two years.
Those totals alone would be enough to please Newton after the abysmal play at tight end from a year ago.
Henry will be asked to be one of the primary pass-catchers in the revamped offense, and his presence in the red zone could help the Patriots be more effective in scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
Agholor played his way into a multi-year contract through a career season with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
The former Philadelphia Eagles wideout produced 896 yards and eight touchdowns on 48 receptions, and he is expected to be New England's top deep threat.
One of New England's rare NFL draft misses in the last few years was N'Keal Harry, who struggled to lock down the No. 1 wide receiver spot since entering the league.
Harry was the team's fifth-leading wideout in 2020 and is the third-best returning receiver from the 2020 squad. Damiere Byrd left in free agency and Julian Edelman retired.
New England needs more out of the wide receiver position to make Newton feel more comfortable in the offense. Agholor should spread out opposing defenses more and, if anything, will be a more reliable pass-catcher than the other players on the roster.
A combination of Jakobi Meyers, Agholor and Bourne with an improved Harry could significantly upgrade the Patriots offense and flip back above .500 after a 7-9 campaign.
New England's defense should be significantly better than the unit from a year ago.
At linebacker, the Patriots signed Judon, brought back Kyle Van Noy in free agency and are getting back Dont'a Hightower after he opted out in 2020.
Judon could be the most important addition when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Chase Winovich was New England's only player with five or more sacks last season.
Judon had 54 tackles for loss and 36.5 sacks in his career in Baltimore. With Van Noy and Hightower occupying the middle, he can focus more on attacking opposing quarterbacks.
The experience at linebacker alone should make the Patriots a much tougher side to play against. They allowed over 300 total yards in 12 of 16 games last season.
If Judon reaches the pocket on a more frequent basis than any New England player did in 2020, the Patriots could cut down on their yard concession and put Newton in much better positions to succeed with improved field position.
On paper, the Judon signing looks like one of the best in the NFL, and if it translates to the gridiron, the Patriots should be in the mix for a playoff position.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.