The New England Patriots launched an unprecedented spending spree at the beginning of the Free Agency negotiating period on Monday and early Tuesday with the hopes of remaking a roster that went 7-9 last season. Bill Belichick is always active in free agency and has a track record of bringing in 1-2 high priced veterans roughly every four years, but on Tuesday he blew past that. The team signed seven players, three of whom to contracts that were at or near the top of the market.
TE Hunter Henry
Henry agreed to his deal on Tuesday, whereas the rest of the players on this list agreed to terms on Monday. Henry gets top billing, however, because he is the biggest name and will also have a major impact on the Patriots offense. Henry is 26 and has been a force for the Chargers when on the field over the past two seasons. He caught 55 passes for 652 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2019 and posted a 60/613/4 line in 2020. He is beginning his prime and will only get better during his 3-year deal with the Patriots. The only concern is health as Henry missed all of 2018 with injuries, four games in 2019 and two games last season. If his health holds, he will help rejuvenate the Patriots offense.
TE Jonnu Smith
The Patriots swooped in at the start of the negotiating period and signed Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal with a guarantee of $31.25 million. Smith instantly becomes the best tight end on New England’s roster. The 6’3” 248-pound tight end is best defined as a “move” or “flex” tight end that can also block well. The Patriots will use him in two tight end sets with Devin Asiasi and he will also be a significant factor on his own in the passing game. He caught 41 passes for 448 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2020. At only 25 and entering his prime, Smith will be a major part of the Patriots offense for at least the next three seasons.
DL Davon Godchaux
The Patriots added Godchaux at the start of free agency in hopes of addressing a major problem in the interior of their defensive line. Godchaux, 26, will slot into a defensive tackle role and use his 6’3” 311-pound frame to improve a Patriots run defense that was porous for much of 2020. His signing will not garner the same headlines as other Patriots moves, but his impact has the potential to be as important as any other new arrival. Godchaux is not a superstar, but he is a significant upgrade over what the Patriots had in 2020. His deal is for 2 years with only $9 million guaranteed. Godchaux only played five games in 2020 due to injury, but suited up for all 16 games in 2018 and 2019. His play in Brian Flores defense over the past two seasons should ease his transition to the Patriots.
DL Matt Judon
Judon was the biggest headliner and received one of the biggest deals in team history at 4 years and $56 million with $32 million guaranteed. Judon is the riskiest signing the Patriots have made in free agency thus far. He has been a Pro Bowler the last two seasons and should have at least a few strong seasons left at 29. However, Judon was often moved around in the Ravens defense and will need to continue that to be successful. Belichick is a master at moving players around and getting the most out of them, but Judon is not just a simple plug-and-play guy who will get 7+ sacks from the same spot. New England had a private workout with Judon at Grand Valley State before he was drafted, and that information helps make them believe Judon will be a fit in Foxboro. New England loaded a lot of money into the first two years of Judon’s contract making it easier to move on from him in 2022 if it doesn’t work out. If the Patriots and Judon make it work, he will be an excellent player for them and a key piece of the defense.
DL Henry Anderson
Anderson, like Godchaux, was brought in to help solidify the interior of the defensive line. His deal is also modest with a guarantee of $7 million with incentives that could total $11 million over two seasons. Anderson will be part of an interior that includes Godchaux and potentially a returning Lawrence Guy or Adam Butler (or both). New England may also look to draft a defensive tackle early for a more long-term answer. Anderson had 42 tackles in 2020, his highest total of his career, and like Godchaux he is not a superstar but is young and could be a solid piece in a much-improved position for New England.
WR Nelson Agholor
A blind observer could plainly see that the Patriots wide receiver group was a major weakness in 2020. Belichick signed two players yesterday to help improve that group, the first of which was Agholor. Patriots fans saw Agholor up close in 2020 when he visited Foxboro as a member of the Raiders. Agholor played five seasons in Philadelphia that were good but inconsistent overall. He caught more than 60 passes in 2017 and 2018, but less than 40 in his other three seasons with the Eagles.
In Las Vegas, Agholor caught 48 passes last season, but what Patriots fans should care about most was his yards per target. At 10.9 ypt, Agholor had by far his best downfield season of his career and that is an area New England sorely needs to improve. The Patriots did not scare anyone downfield from the outside receiver position in 2020; Agholor will change that. New England probably did overpay for Agholor at 2 years, $26 million total with a reported $22 million guaranteed, but given the cap space they have this year and next it won’t affect their ability to do any other deals.
WR Kendrick Bourne
Bourne is a low-risk, potential high reward signing at receiver for New England. His contract is for three seasons but is mostly front loaded, which would allow the team to move on after 2021 if they wanted to. However, Bourne projects to compete for a large role in the Patriots revamped receiving corps. Bourne is only 25 and caught 49 passes for 667 yards last year. He lined up more in the slot than outside and the Patriots best option at slot is an aging Julian Edelman who missed most of last year due to injuries. Bourne has a large frame for the slot at 6’1” and 203 pounds but does not sacrifice athleticism.
DB Jalen Mills
The signing of Mills happened minutes after the Smith and Judon signings and as such flew under the radar on Monday. Mills is perhaps the most interesting signing of the first day of free agency. Mills can play both corner and safety, positions that on the surface may not look like needs for the Patriots. However, his signing may signal a future trade of star corner Stephon Gilmore or Jason McCourty not returning. It could also signal that Devin McCourty may only have 1-2 years left in New England and the Patriots are trying to complement him now with Mills filling the Duron Harmon role while also planning for his future departure.
Mills likely will not come into Foxboro and be a starter, but he could have a significant role depending on how the Patriots maneuver Gilmore and the McCourtys in the coming months. At 26, he is another young free agent signing for the Patriots who is just entering his prime and whose contract looks too rich now, but could end up looking solid by the end of it.