By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As he dished out over $200 million during a free agency spending bonanza, Bill Belichick has made one thing abundantly clear: He’s not messing around this year after the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2020.READ MORE: Julian Edelman For The Hall Of Fame? Here's The One (Winning) Argument
After questions about his legacy were catapulted toward Foxboro throughout the 2020 season, Belichick went out Monday and threw money around like he was giving out his own stimulus package. To say Belichick was aggressive during the opening hours of NFL free agency would be an understatement. He made it rain more than he has in a decade, bringing in seven free agents in hopes of never repeating that 7-9 disaster that was the 2020 season.
Belichick didn’t wait and let the market play out, settling for the bargain bin DVDs that he occasionally brings in to plug some holes on the roster. He aggressively went out and set the market, signing some of the best names available to turn around the post-Tom Brady era in New England.
And he wasn’t done after Monday’s spending spree either, reportedly signing top tight end Hunter Henry to kick off his Tuesday. Bill has clearly gotten his hands on the company credit card, and he isn’t afraid to use it.
The Patriots have desperately needed a tight end who can produce since before Rob Gronkowski retired/unretired and went to Tampa. Now they have two of them, with Henry joining Jonnu Smith — the second-best available tight end on the market — on the depth chart. Belichick has been a huge fan of Henry’s for years, and both he and Smith will give New England some monsters in the red zone who have the agility to YAC it up in Foxboro.
Tight end had been an abyss of nothingness the last few years. Now on paper, it’s one of the team’s strongest positions heading into 2021.
The team also desperately needed to add some pass-catchers to its receiver arsenal. In came veteran Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, who will join the likes of Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers in New England’s receiving corps.READ MORE: Julian Edelman's Patriots Story Truly One Of The Best The NFL Has Ever Seen
Philly fans were never enamored by Agholor’s hands, but the dude can absolutely fly on the open field. And if a pass is catchable, Bourne is going to haul it in, catching 66 percent of the passes that went his way the last three seasons. He had just six drops all of last season, and his quarterbacks had a 92.9 passer rating when targeting the 25-year-old.
Now the question remains whether or not Newton can get the ball to said receivers, but at least he’ll have some legit options in 2021 if he wins the starting job. The Patriots may not be done adding to their arsenal, either, with Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller and JuJu Smith-Schuster still eager to cash in this offseason.
On the defensive side, the Patriots made a monstrous splash in signing linebacker Matt Judon, who will get a reported $56 million over the next four years to send opposing quarterbacks to the turf. Judon will provide a big boost to a New England pass rush that was nearly non-existent for large stretches of last season. He racked up 9.5 sacks in 2019 and six last season, earning Pro Bowl nods in each of those seasons. While it’s never a safe bet to expect double-digits sacks out of an individual player on the New England D, Judon should still make life miserable for QBs, and his presence should open the door for more opportunities for Chase Winovich and Josh Uche.
Those are the big signings from Monday, but there was a trio of Belichickian moves as well. He addressed needs along the defensive line with Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson, a pair of big bodies who will help stop the run. Both were signed to relatively modest deals, so the door remains open for Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler to return as well.
The Pats also brought in versatile defensive back Jalen Mills, who can play both corner and safety and line up just about anywhere on the field. He seems like an ideal candidate for the New England secondary, adding more depth to the Patriots’ aging core of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung at safety. He’s also a bit of insurance if (when?) Stephon Gilmore gets traded, and with Jason McCourty a free agent.
It’s a lot to take in for New England fans, who aren’t used to seeing such a flurry of transitions mere hours after the “legal tampering” period kicks off. It’s uncharacteristic of Belichick to dish out so many Benjamins at such an early venture in free agency, but is a welcome sight after such a disappointing 2020 campaign.
However, “Winning March” doesn’t always translate to winning in September through February. Most teams that go above and beyond in free agency do so because they didn’t win in the December, January and February prior, and the Patriots certainly fit into that category. Usually, such a spending spree is something Patriots fans would ridicule if it were another team. Remember when Mr. Bombastic Rex Ryan declared that the Buffalo Bills won the offseason in 2016? Buffalo proceeded to go 7-8 and Rex got the boot after Week 16.MORE NEWS: Julian Edelman Announces Retirement From Football
It’s unlikely that all of these Patriots signings will work. But don’t expect Belichick to come out and emphatically say the Patriots have won anything. He’s going to let his actions speak for him, and after his armor received a bunch of dings throughout a disappointing 2020 season, those actions say the Patriots are not going down without a fight.