This has been a free agency week like no one has ever seen in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Usually free agency for the New England Patriots is a solemn time. A week where we say goodbye to valuable pieces from championship teams that we simply just can’t afford anymore.
And all while they leave for greener bank accounts, Bill Belichick instead scoops up former draft busts or overlooked players on bare bones deals. And those players then usually become the unsung heroes of a championship.
Thus the cycle continued.
However, this year has been flipped on its head in terms of Belichick’s strategy. Rather it has been spend, spend and spend some more.
And while spending a ton of money is fun. How good are these additions?
One thing to remember through all of this is that NFL contracts don’t mean anything at all outside of the guaranteed money.
Bill Belichick’s Strategy – A+
Let me first start off with this. It’s kind of cheating, I know but I’m the one writing this blog, not you.
Can we please sit back and appreciate the game of chess Bill Belichick is playing? Just a mere month ago it seemed cemented, as Tom Brady raised his 7th Lombardi Trophy. That Brady, not Belichick was the reason for the Patriots success.
The case was closed. The argument turned into mutual agreement.
But Belichick was playing the long con. He trudged through a 7-9 season with a skeleton roster in terms of weapons and important defensive pieces. Never once considering tanking for a new shiny quarterback.
Rather he sat on his close to $65 million in cap space. Knowing full well that after a pandemic riddled season the league cap number would go down. All 31 other NFL teams had been making plans for the cap to again increase and save them some headaches. Rather the opposite.
The only other teams close to the Patriots were the Jaguars and Jets. Neither is a few free agents away from competing. Far, far from it.
So Belichick went on a spending spree. Why? Because nobody else could that’s why. Other teams have to carefully craft their free agency plan around one or two additions at best.
So why shell out so much money? Because like everything else eventually, the NFL will rebound from this pandemic. And next year in 2022 and beyond, the cap will increase. There are new television deals being struck as well, richer than the last ones. The cap will go up.
So Belichick got to walk into the candy store with $100 when everyone else was holding $10. While also knowing the next time he went shopping the chocolate bar he bought for $5 would end up really costing him $3.
Bill Belichick lies awake at night, staring at a ceiling creating salary cap maneuvers.
I am only covering the additions today. So no Cam Newton or Deatrich Wise breakdowns. And no trades, sorry Trent Brown.
Jonnu Smith, TE: 4 Years/$50 Million ($31.25 Gauranteed) – A+
I can’t begin to express how much I absolutely love this move.
Let’s start with on the field. Jonnu Smith is the perfect New England Patriot. He’s built like a tight end, but versatile enough to be flexed out as a wide receiver.
Bill Belichick has loved tight ends his entire career. There are the traditional, hand in the ground, run blocking guys. Who the Pats added, we’ll talk about him in a second.
And then there is the mismatch, running up the seam, creating in space ones. That is Jonnu Smith.
He was pretty pedestrian his first three seasons in Tennessee. Even last year 448 receiving yards doesn’t pop off the page at you. But eight touchdowns does.
He’s a versatile red zone threat at a position where the Patriots got literally zero production from last year. Any upgrade would have been good, this is great.
Now I realize that the $31.25 million guaranteed might be a bit scary. But for the immediate ramifications against the cap in 2021, it’s brilliant.
Jonnu Smith contract:
Signing Bonus: $15M
Salaries: $1M, $9M, $10M, $11M
Annual per game roster bonuses: Up to $1M
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 16, 2021
So Jonnu will be handed a $15 million check after he officially signs his name. And then he won’t make a ton of money for awhile.
In fact this year, 2021, Smith counts for $5.9 million against the cap.
That is cheaper than Julian Edelman, and less than a million more expensive than Cam Newton and Patrick Chung.
Smith’s guaranteed money runs for three years. So at the very least, he’s a Patriot for the next three years, with nothing guaranteed for that fourth and final year where he is a $15.7 million hit against the cap.
To repeat, the cap is only going to go up.
I don’t think I can love this deal anymore if I tried.
Hunter Henry, TE: 3 Years/$37.5 Million ($25 Gauranteed) – A
Finally a name that the Patriots have been linked to for what feels like since the dawn of time, is now a Patriot.
While Jonnu Smith is a freak versatile athlete. Hunter Henry is your prototypical tight end. He will be lining up next to the tackle with his hand in the dirt, helping run block. But don’t expect the gadget plays out of Henry that you’ll see from Smith.
That being said, Henry is an excellent addition. He’s a top talent in this league. And when one thinks of what Cam Newton and Greg Olsen accomplished in Carolina, one can get very excited about Hunter Henry.
The one draw back on Henry however is health. He has never played all 16 games of a regular season. Not once.
Now the Pats aren’t paying top dollar for a guy who will suit up for 10-14 games. Like Smith, Henry’s contract looks almost identical, minus the extra fourth season. And with the added “Per Game Roster Bonus” meaning that part of that deal is baked into how many games he plays. Sort of nullifying my injury prone worries.
Henry’s cap hit for 2021 is $6.9 million. That’s it. You combine Smith and Henry and they are taking up about $13 million in cap space. Dont’a Hightower money.
The only reason this grade is not on par with Smith is that I feel like Jonnu Smith could be the better player, and Henry has not proven to be able to stay on the field.
Matthew Judon, Edge: 4 Years/$56 Million ($32 Guaranteed) – A
Another home run here for Bill Belichick. While the headlines for free agent defensive players surrounded the likes of JJ Watt, Richard Sherman and Vonn Miller. Belichick went out and stole an under the radar name, from an in conference rival.
Let’s start there. Belichick knows that to compete for the AFC crown, chances are you have to go through Baltimore. The Ravens are tough. So when Belichick got the chance to take away a key cog to their defensive machine he did it.
Judon, a two time pro bowler, is a powerful edge threat. He doesn’t rack up the sack numbers on par with an Aaron Donald, no but over the last four seasons. He’s registered, 7, 7, 9.5 and 6.
Last year Chase Winovich had 5.5 and we considered him to be the teams best pass rusher.
If you watch the highlight video above, you also notice that Judon is a premier player in setting the edge. Go back and watch the 49ers dismantling of the Pats last season. You will find zero edges being set by New England. Judon is an immediate fix to that problem if nothing else.
So the Patriots just added an all around edge rusher. To move around and team up with the likes of Winovich, Uche and Hightower. The blitz packages will be fun to watch.
And as for the money, it’s once again back loaded. He’s $6.4 million against this years cap. Which then balloons to $16.5 million next season. But after 2022 his guaranteed money is done. Making him expendable through the back half of his contract.
He’s rather affordable for an edge defender at his age of 29 when the season begins. Chandler Jones this year, in his age 31 season is set to make $20.8 million against the cap.
In 2024 in his age 29 season, Joey Bosa will worth $29 million against the Chargers salary cap.
This was an excellent deal for New England.
Jalen Mills, CB: 4 Years/$24 Million ($9 Gauranteed) – B+
Not a ton of flash to this move. It’s adding secondary depth and finding a possible replacement across from either JC Jackson or Stephon Gilmore.
As we wait to see what happens with either of them. Gilmore’s name has been offered up in trade rumors and Jackson waits to see what happens with his RFA status.
What makes Mills valuable though is his versatility. For the Eagles last year he lined up at both corner and safety. Does this seem like a trend for New England this off-season?
Between Smith, Judon and Mills, the Pats are paying for versatility. They want position less players. Between guys like Chung, Uche and Kyle Dugger who can line up at numerous spots. Throw in Judon and Mills to that list.
DB Jalen Mills: 4 years, $24 million
Signing bonus: $2.5m
2021: $3m* + $58.8k per-game roster bonus
2022: $4.5m* + $58.8k per-game roster bonus
2023: $5m + $58.8k per-game roster bonus
2024: $5m + $58.8k per-game roster bonus
* Fully guaranteed
** $3.5m of $4.5m guaranteed
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 16, 2021
And at that cost, depth is nice. Only two years of the deal are guaranteed. Which makes this basically a 2 year deal from New England for $9 million guaranteed. The guaranteed number is very affordable for Mills.
Kendrick Bourne, WR: 3 Years/$22.5 Million – B
Thread: Key Patriots contract details:
WR Kendrick Bourne:
Max value: 3 years, $15m, plus $7m in incentives
Full guarantee: 1 year, $5.25m
2021 cash: $5.25m to $7.5m
2021 cap number: $3.2m
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 16, 2021
I know I was one of the people surprised to see Kendrick Bourne’s name attached to 3 Years/$22.5 Million.
Usually it works the other way around where the Patriots find an undrafted talent, coach them up and then watch them leave for bigger money elsewhere.
However for Bourne as we peel back the curtains of his deal, it’s much more like 3 years/$15 million with a lot of baked in incentives.
None of Bourne’s numbers jump off the page at you. In fact he did not have one single 100+ yard receiving game last year.
He did play in the game against New England for the Niners, but was held to no catches on a single target. Which leads you to believe Belichick has had his eye on this kid for awhile, and took him out of the game.
Depending on the very up in the air future for Julian Edelman, Bourne may just be the Patriots new slot receiver come this fall.
Henry Anderson, DT: 2 Years/$11 Million – B
Not much to go off of this one just yet. All we know is that it’s a 2 year deal. But what makes this deal significant?
First it’s coming at the expense of a division rival. Say thank you to the New York Jets for this one.
Second Anderson is a 6-6, 300 pound mountain of a man. He will be plugged right into the middle of that defensive line that desperately needs size and run help. Don’t pay any mind to his seven sack, 2018 season. That’s an anomaly.
But the Pats help address a need at the expense of a division rival? Check and check.
Ted Karras, C: 1 Year/$ 4 Million – B
It's a one-year, $4 million for Ted Karras with New England https://t.co/C6c0ybYcC0
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 17, 2021
So Ted Karras is coming back to the Patriots after a brief stay in Miami.
The deal is fine, it’s cheap and you get a known commodity back in the locker room on a one year deal that allows you to go draft your next center.
What stinks is the ramifications of it where it sounds like David Andrews is not coming back. He said he would hit free agency after negotiations with New England stalled out. With the hope that he’d return to Foxboro after being wined and dined to see if the Patriots would match an offer. Like Dont’a Hightower did a few years ago.
But adding Karras this quickly probably means they don’t expect Andrews back.
Davon Godchaux, DT: 2 Years/$15 Million ($9 Guaranteed)- B-
A slightly lower grade compared to Anderson for a similar deal at the same position. What gives?
Well it’s slightly more expensive for a guy with similar production.
However I could see Godchaux being the quiet steal of this flurry of additions.
He appeared to be on the climb in Miami. All stats one would care about for a DT were making gains from year to year. But a bicep injury cost him pretty much all of last year outside of five games. He showed zero health issues the three prior seasons, which leads one to believe that he will be back next season, just fine.
But there is obviously risk involved with projecting a player to not only come back to form, but also perform then at a higher level than previously seen.
But again the Patriots are heavily addressing their defensive line issues this off-season.
Nelson Agholor, WR: 2 Years/$26 Million- C
Agholor had a breakout season with the Las Vegas Raiders last year and the Patriots seem to be paying for that.
Agholor’s cap hit this year is $7 million and his hit next year is $15 million…
The former first round pick had a career high 896 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year for Vegas. And while he has game breaking speed the internet joke is well his hands and drops.
However that is something Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to care about. A la Aaron Dobson’s entire career, Wes Welker in the Super Bowl and Edelman is guilty of quite a few drops.
Agholor’s however is a weapon the Patriots sorely missed last year. Just having that threat of someone who can take the top off can change how a defense plans for you.
The only catch (excuse the pun) is I’m not sure I am ready to buy into Agholor’s contract the way the Patriots obviously are.
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