NFL Free Agency: Rebuilding the Patriots

by Will Rogers

Bill Belichick and his family have deep ties to the Naval Academy, but still, who could have predicted that he would spend like a drunken sailor at the beginning of free agency? It had to be all hands on deck in the Patriots front office this week as they reviewed contracts of a slew of free agents signings when Belichick started re-stocking the shelves on Monday.

New tight ends, pass rushers, offensive linemen, wide receivers all rushed through the gates in Foxboro as the Belichick Athletic Club put on a new face after a disaster (for the Pats, anyway) of a season. Seven wins might be cause for celebration in Jacksonville, Detroit, or among Jets fans, but that doesn’t cut it in New England.

Oddsmakers who listed New England at 30/1 and even as high as 40/1 to win the Super Bowl next February are no doubt scrambling a bit as they make at least some minor adjustments to reflect the fact that Belichick is tired of being a punching bag and Will Not Take It On The Chin Again this coming fall.

But as they assess the re-tooled Pats, Cappers will notice one glaring omission – namely, that New England still doesn’t a quality quarterback, and without a transmission even a Lamborghini is worthless. To say that Cam Newton was mediocre last season would be doing a solid for the former NFL MVP. There were times when he was just awful, and there were times when it was worse than that.

But barring a trade for a quarterback, Belichick is pushing his chips all-in on Newton, gambling that last season – no off-season OTAs, restricted training camp, Newton’s bout with Covid, a roster torn apart by virus opt-outs, and one of the worst skill-position groups in franchise history – all conspired against him, and that the football gods will pay him back 10-fold this time around. The Patriots do know that Newton is enormously popular in the locker room, and that has to count for something.

And that locker room will have plenty of new faces. Newton will finally have a viable tight end (Jonnu Smith, ex of the Titans) after two early-round draft picks last year were washouts. The receiving corps looks like it will get a complete revamp with the arrivals of Nelson Agholor from the Raiders and Kendrick Bourne from the 49ers. And you can add to that whatever Pats vet Julian Edelman has left in the tank after missing the entire 2020 season with an injury.

After getting little pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Belichick bought in four A-level defenders – pass rusher Matthew Judon from the Ravens, ex-Dolphin tackle Davon Godchaux, defensive back Jalen Mills from the Eagles, and tackle Henry Anderson, ex of the Jets.

Add to that mix the return of all seven of the eight players who opted out last season due to Covid (OT Marcus Canon returned, then was dealt to Houston), and the team that will take the field on opening day in Atlanta will bear little resemblance to the one that limped off the field in Foxboro last Jan. 3. It had better. Last year’s defense gave up 353 points, the most by a NE team since the 1990 version allowed 446 on the way to a 1-15 season.

Psychologists might tell you that the Patriot spending spree was caused by Belichick’s envy in seeing Tom Brady collect a Super Bowl ring this past season, and that visual no doubt made its way up the coach’s notoriously tight rear. No matter the reason, though, it’s clear that Belichick has seen more than enough of 7-9 seasons, and wants back on top badly enough to pay – and pay big – for that opportunity.

As to the long-term odds, the newcomers might move the needle a bit. The big question is whether handicappers see New England’s move as accumulating weapons for a new quarterback who would replace Newton. In that respect, all eyes are on Houston, where former NE GM Nick Caserio is now calling the shots; and Seattle, where Russell Wilson exit talk has reached the point where the Seahawks are reviewing film on Jets QB Sam Darnold. If either Watson or Wilson wind up in Foxboro, those 30/1 futures tickets will be worth their weight in gold.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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