Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is in the midst of an expedited rebuild in New England after an unprecedented spending spree in the opening week of free agency.
The Pats’ football czar isn’t waiting around for three seasons to slowly build back up to a playoff contender; this is an aggressive Belichick in win-now mode. On top of that, Belichick is also building a roster with staying power with an average age of 26.8 in his free-agent additions.
Super-agent Drew Rosenhaus, who had five clients and counting sign with the Patriots this offseason, described Belichick as “hungry” during free-agent negotiations.
Belichick’s hunger saw him bring in Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Trent Brown (trade) while re-signing center David Andrews in the last ten days.
As a result, New England’s moves offensively and potential moves at quarterback on the horizon have the league buzzing.
Although offense is exciting, we shouldn’t sleep on the revamped defense either. With one of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history at the helm, it has elite-level talent and potential.
Last season, the Patriots’ biggest issue defensively was stopping the run (32nd in DVOA), mainly setting the edge against the run where the Pats surrendered 5.02 yards per rush on outside rushes in 2020 (28th in NFL).
Recent draft picks such as Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings either didn’t grasp things quickly enough or didn’t have the body types to develop as stout edge-setters.
Similarly, veteran John Simon was one of the worst edge defenders in football a year ago, and the Patriots set out to completely re-work their defensive line after a disappointing season.
New England decided to keep Deatrich Wise and rebuild the line with new pieces around Wise, and although their offer was nearly identical to Miami’s, Adam Butler chose the Dolphins over the Patriots.
The Patriots also had a terrible time defending the pass between the numbers, ranking 30th by surrendering 9.4 yards per play-action pass attempt during their 7-9 campaign last season.
Belichick recognized his teams’ needs on defense were as pressing as the holes they needed to fill on offense, doling out $115 million in total value contracts to defensive players this week.
With all that spending, here’s a look at the Patriots’ projected Week 1 regulars versus where things stood in their last competitive game in Week 15, 2020 (before playoff elimination):
New England will have at least six new primary contributors, five in the front seven. Their much-improved linebacking corps features newcomer Matt Judon paired with the returns of Dont’a Hightower (opt-out) and Kyle Van Noy, which gives the Patriots the stout edges and second-level run defenders they missed dearly during the 2020 season.
Along the defensive line, Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux are in while Adam Butler and possibly Lawrence Guy are out. Will they hold up better against the run? That’s the expectation.
New England’s front-seven is significantly better than it was last season. Plus, the team remains optimistic that Uche and Winovich (if not traded) will contribute as primary sub-rushers.
The Patriots gave themselves a chance to go from 26th in total DVOA to back in the upper-tier as they were in 2019 when they led the league in the metric with their new additions.
Now it’s up to Belichick and his coaching staff to figure out the best combinations on the field.
Let’s get into some of your questions. Thanks to everyone that asked a question. There were tons of them this week. If I didn’t answer your question, check out our Patriots Press Pass channel on YouTube, where we do videos on a bunch of more topics. Mailbag time:
What do you expect winos role to be and how best to utilize his talents?
— Dave (@ChefdDds89) March 18, 2021
Most of you will pick up on me saying that Winovich could get traded, which is possible. As Belichick said multiple times last season, Wino is a good football player. The issue is his fit in their scheme and the Pats’ locker room culture. The team wasn’t thrilled about how active Winovich was with the media early on in his career. Plus, he’s having trouble holding up against the run on the edge, and his pass-rush discipline can improve too. Winovich might be better off in a scheme that will let him pin his ears back and rush upfield on every snap, which isn’t the Pats’ brand of football. Entering the third year of his rookie contract, Winovich is a cheap and ascending player. Although the team isn’t actively seeking a trade, it wouldn’t surprise me after adding Judon and Van Noy if they move Winovich.
What positions do you think the Patriots are still looking to add at via free agency? Examples of potential fits?
— Bleed Green (@Bleed_Green_17) March 18, 2021
The Patriots continue to monitor several available free agents’ markets across different positions; an addition at any spot wouldn’t surprise me. I can report that they’re still particularly active in the running back, wide receiver, and defensive line markets. Belichick will add a veteran running back at some point, whether it’s a power back type (Fournette) or someone in a pass-catching back mold (Duke Johnson, Damien Williams). I also think they’ll add another receiver that can play on the outside. Maybe that one is simply retaining Damiere Byrd now in a reduced role.
What are the realistic chances of deshaun Watson? Shoot me straight. I can take it
— Lyle Thomas ©️ (@LyleTho60844368) March 18, 2021
Legal issues aside, I would put the chances of a Deshaun Watson trade at less than 5%. Before all of his legal troubles, the Patriots were interested in a Watson trade. The package that I heard was two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and two veteran players (maybe Gilmore and Wynn). However, the hurdle I can’t get over from Houston’s point of view is the credibility they’d lose and the career-suicide that would ensue from Nick Caserio trading Watson to his old boss. I don’t see Texans ownership allowing that trade to happen, or even the league for that matter, unless it’s clear that the Patriots have the best offer on the table (which would be hard to believe). I also don’t think anyone is touching Watson until he clears his name in the courts. I think Belichick would make a trade like that, but there are too many obstacles to overcome with Watson at the moment.
Why do you think the patriots didn’t place a First round tender on JC Jackson?
— Alexander Luccini (@AlexLuccini) March 18, 2021
My theory on Jackson’s second-round tender is that the team feels that if Jackson does sign an offer sheet, it’ll be for below market value since cap space is dried up league-wide. If it’s at or below the market, the Patriots will probably match the offer sheet and have Jackson under contract long-term. Still, I think the Pats are banking on Jackson realizing that his best move is to play on the tender and cash out as an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Any deal he signs this offseason will likely be at a discount, so he might as well bet on having another strong, high-INT season for a big payday down the line. I wouldn’t worry too much about the Patriots losing Jackson this offseason.
Hi Evan, love the moves we made so far, what are your thoughts on Lawrence Guy, do you think there's a chance we bring him back?
— ashley1992 (@ashley1992__) March 18, 2021
The door isn’t completely shut on a return for Lawrence Guy, per source. However, the team prioritized Wise and Adam Butler, who chose Miami over New England with the Pats making a nearly identical offer to Butler as the Patriots. The Patriots want to get younger along the defensive line, and the 31-year-old Guy doesn’t fit that standard. I could see him returning as the veteran in the room, but the Patriots aren’t interested in paying him much, from what I’m told.
After having addressed so many of their roster concerns already in FA, do you think they're gonna address the QB situation in the draft? If so, do you think they'll move up, and if they do, who do you think they'll target and why?
— Ghost of the Eastern Seaboard (@GhostoftheES) March 18, 2021
It feels like the Patriots will ultimately address the quarterback position in the draft, but there are a few layers here. First, the team believes that Cam Newton will be much better this season with the new pieces around him, and it’s not that outlandish of an opinion. Cam struggled, sometimes mightily, but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some make it out to be given the circumstances and weapons. Second, I believe that the Patriots would entertain a blockbuster quarterback trade if one becomes available. However, drafting a quarterback to sit behind Newton for a while seems like the most likely scenario. I think a trade up to six would land New England one of the top four QBs. Packages would start at no. 15, a 2022 first-round pick, and a day two selection.
What kind of QB do you expect?
A mobile one or a QB like Mac Jones?
— Patriots_Mainfranken (@German_Patriots) March 18, 2021
The way the Patriots are building their offense around Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith screams for a mobile quarterback, like Cam in the short-term. In the long-term, it could be Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Kellen Mond. The reason for that is they’re going to be an offense focused on running the football and throwing off play-action between the numbers and up the seams. Those types of offenses are always more dynamic when you can play 11-on-11 versus the quarterback being a non-threat as a runner. Imagine trying to defend an RPO action with Henry and Smith running upfield behind the linebackers, a power OL coming downhill, and two running threats in the backfield. Good luck.
What QB’s do you like after the first round? I like Mond, Trask, Mills
— Robert Bouche (@bobbybouche54) March 18, 2021
If you’re looking for my quarterback rankings, you can find those in my draft spreadsheet that features my rankings at every position (still finalizing some, but most are there). I would rank these quarterbacks as Mond, Trask, Mills. With Mond and Trask as viable day-two options for the Patriots. Mond would be my choice out of this group.
How does Jonnu Smith compare to how the Patriots used AH? (Will not say his name)
— darryl johnston 💧 (@DarrylJohnston) March 18, 2021
There’s some overlap with Jonnu Smith and Aaron Hernandez but also key differences. The overlaps are in their versatility and YAC ability. I would think the Pats will dust off some Hernandez plays out of the backfield and around the formation for Jonnu, scheming up ways to get Smith the ball in space. However, the main difference is at the top of the route. Smith is more of a vertical threat than Hernandez was, while Hernandez had elite short-area quickness to change directions in his breaks. I don’t think Jonnu will be as quick in his route breaks, but he should bring more of a threat up the seams. If he’s 70 percent as good as Hernandez was with the ball in his hands, Smith will be a hell of a player for the Patriots.
Based on what you’ve seen on film, is Dalton Keene a genuine option at fullback? Has the size, and could offer athleticism & pass catching out of the backfield (sort of a poor man’s Juszczyk) but can he legitimately win the job as a lead blocker first & foremost?
— Dave (@Dave01122930) March 18, 2021
It will be fascinating to see what the Patriots do with their tight ends from the 2020 draft. They signed Jonnu for four years and Henry for three, so there go Asiasi and Keene’s rookie contracts. As far as Keene at fullback goes, that’s where his primary focus should be if he hopes to earn playing time. Keene was a much better blocker at Virginia Tech than he was last season for the Pats because Tech allowed him to get a head of steam most of the time into his engagements by playing him as an H-Back off the line. He might also bring some receiving punch from the backfield with his athletic profile. He’ll get better matchups from there and won’t need to work against press coverage. I like Jakob Johnson and Dan Vitale, but Keene’s upside in a fullback or H-Back role is pretty high. Hopefully, that’s where he’s practicing during camp.