After missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years in 2020, the Patriots went all out in the low season and spent a record $ 163 million in guaranteed money.
A year later, the Patriots saw their overall victory increase by three games (it should be noted that an extra game was added to the schedule), which was good enough for them to get back to the playoffs. However, they were far from good enough to beat Bills when they first got there, losing in a humiliating way.
Now that several of the free agents who have signed have played an entire season in New England, let’s assess how much of an impact each of them had in helping the Patriots reach the playoffs.
Hunter Henry: In 2020, the Patriots had the worst receiving production from close ends in the league. They made sure to address it in the free agency, and signed Henry to a three-year deal of $ 37.4 million ($ 24 million guaranteed). The contract made Henry the fifth highest paid tight-end in the league on an annual basis at the time.
Henry had a bit of an up-and-down season where he recorded two or fewer catches in nine games (including Saturday’s loss to the Bills where he had a catch of 30 yards). He was also closer to the middle of the pack in terms of receptions (50) and receiving yards (603), ranking 17th and 13th respectively among close ends in those two stats.
But Henry’s value came in the red zone. His nine receiving touchdowns were a draw for most among tight ends this season, giving rookie Mac Jones an easy goal in the red zone and giving the Patriots an end zone receiving threat that they have not had since Rob Gronkowski left.
Kendrick Bourne: The veteran receiver was certainly the Patriots’ best signing in terms of value in the last offseason. Bourne signed a $ 15 million three-year deal and was widely considered an afterthought among the other receivers and close ends on the Patriots’ list that went into the season.
Bourne not only rose to claim himself as the team’s No. 2 receiving option, but he also got better as the season went on. He finished second on the team in receptions (55), receiving yards (800) and receiving touchdowns (five). He was no doubt also the team’s lone bright spot in the playoff loss to the Bills, where he recorded seven catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
Bourne also had an ability to make some great plays, including catching a 75-yard touchdown late in regulation to give the Patriots the lead against the Cowboys in Week 6. But he was also used in other facets, rising as a rusher in week 10 against the Browns as the Patriots did not have Damien Harris, running after 43 yards on three carries.
After a good year 1 in New England, the 26-year-old should be a player to watch over the next few seasons as he spends more time with Jones.
Matthew Judon: One can not deny that the way Judon ended the season was disappointing. The Pro Bowl pass-rusher, who signed a $ 56 million four-year deal in the offseason, failed to record a firing in the last four games of the regular season and in Saturday’s playoff loss to the Bills, where he did not. Start. He also recorded only one QB hit and one tackle for losses in that stretch.
At the same time, it’s hard to deny how good he was in the Patriots’ first 13 games of the season – where he was the team’s most consistent player. Judon recorded 12.5 sacks, a career-best, over that stretch. He scored at least half a sack in six of the seven games during the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak, and in an earlier stretch he recorded 6.5 sacks over four games.
Although he earns about $ 13.6 million a year, Judon’s annual salary ranks 21st among edge rushers, according to OverTheCap. While Judon’s stretch to end the season could be a bad sign for the future, his 12.5 sacks – a draw as the seventh-most in the league – at least made it worthwhile for 2021.
Jalen Mills: The Patriots signed the former Eagles safety to a four-year, $ 24 million in free agency, but he ended up playing a role that many probably did not think he would play.
When Stephon Gilmore’s rehabilitation of holdout / injury led to his eventual replacement, Mills was deployed as the team’s second outside starting corner along with JC Jackson.
The experiment did not start too well for the Mills and the Patriots – reached a breaking point in the Week 6 loss to the Cowboys, where he gave up six catches for 98 yards. After the loss, the Patriots started playing more zone coverage.
The move to the zone helped Mills a lot as he allowed two catches or less in coverage in eight of the Patriots’ last 11 games of the regular season. He missed the wildcard game against the Bills due to being on the reserve / COVID-19 list, and although he would not have made a difference, you would like to think that Josh Allen would not have had more touchdowns than incompleteness , if he played.
With three years left on his contract, Mills is likely to be in New England for the foreseeable future – especially with Jackon, who is set to be a free agent. He could also replace Devin McCourty if veteran safety hangs the blocks up out of season.
Kyle Van Noy: When the veteran linebacker announced his return to New England, he recalled the “Boogeyman” defense he was a part of in 2019.
After a tough start to the season, Van Noy had a stretch where he looked like his 2019 self – with four sacks, a pick-six and 49 combined tackles over the last two months of the regular season.
Despite the increase in statistics, however, he was part of the startline backing corps that was killed in the running game late in the season – just like the 2019 squad. The Patriots’ running defense allowed 791 yards over the last five games, including the playoffs, giving 5.2 yards per game. carry. Clearly, Van Noy alone is not to blame for that, but when the team is so bad at stopping the race, it falls on everyone.
Van Noy was signed to a two-year, $ 12 million offseason deal.
Of which Godchaux: The Patriots signed Godchaux to help bolster their offensive line in the offseason, giving him a $ 15 million two-year deal.
Godchaux was solid in the running game for most of the season, scoring the fifth-most tackles on the team with 65. He also led the team in missed tackle percentages and was missing only three percent of his tackles.
But he was not much of a factor in the passing defense. He only had one sack and five pressure this season.
The bad one
Jonnu Smith: When the Patriots agreed to a deal with Smith at the beginning of the legal manipulation period, several analysts took it as a sign that the Patriots would work their way back to the playoffs. The Patriots worked their way back into the playoffs, but that was not because of Smith.
Backup tight-ends Foster Moreau, Albert Okwuegbunam, Geoff Swaim and Durham Smythe all had more receptions and / or more receiving yards than Smith (who had 28 catches for 294 yards) this season. Their total salary this season? $ 6.9 million, which is nearly half of what Smith earns on an annual basis on his $ 50 million four-year deal.
Like Henry, that contract made Smith one of the five highest paid tight-ends in the league at the time. But it’s clear that Smith is looking far from a top-five tight end. The Patriots sometimes tried to be creative with Smith, giving him nine carries over the course of the season. However, that was not enough for him to show much upward in the Patriots’ offense.
Nelson Aholor: While the Patriots made a good signing on receiver and tighter than this last offseason, they also made a bad one at every position.
The Patriots signed Agholor to a $ 22 million two-year deal after the veteran recorded a career year in Las Vegas. Agholor’s signing was without a doubt the most criticized at the time because of how he played with the Eagles in the five seasons of his career before the Raiders. But Agholor got on the right track to start his Patriots career, recording five catches on 72 yards with a touchdown in Week 1.
However, it all went downhill from there for Agholor. He recorded only five catches in a match once again during the low season. He never matched his Week 1 receiving yards in total, registering 50 or more receiving yards in two more games. He also recorded only one more touchdown after week 1. Not good.
To put a cap on his first season in New England, Agholor had just one catch of 18 yards in the playoff loss to the Bills. His second goal in that game was on Jones’ deep shot, which was intercepted in the goal zone by Micah Hyde, where Agholor could no doubt have made a better play to try to catch the ball.
To lose Stephon Gilmore: Now Gilmore did not leave New England until October. but it’s hard not to think that if the Patriots did not spend the amount of money they made, they might have had a little extra room to give Gilmore the restructured deal he wanted.
Instead, they traded him to the Panthers to drop his salary to help make room to sign Jamie Collins.
Having Gilmore would not have prevented the Bills from running all over the Patriots in Saturday night’s playoff loss. But having him might have been the difference in the game against the Cowboys – where they allowed 445 passing yards in an overtime loss – and in the second game against the Bills – where Allen threw 314 yards. If the Patriots won any of those games, they would not have met the bills in Round 1, and if they won both, they would have won the division.
Now the Patriots season is over after an embarrassing wildcard round exit. With Gilmore gone and Jackson set to become a free agent, the Patriots have big questions on the corner, even after spending the money they made last offseason.
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