The old cliché in the NFL is the team that "wins" free agency in the winter usually doesn't follow that up with a good season in the fall. There's no question that the New England Patriots, off finishing with their first losing record since 2000, won the first day of NFL free agency Monday by adding receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, tight end Jonnu Smith, linebacker Matthew Judon, defensive linemen Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux, and cornerback Jalen Mills. At William Hill Sportsbook, the Pats' odds to win the AFC East title this year improved from +500 to +425 and the SportsLine Projection Model also forecasted improvement across the board.
New England's spending spree Monday was truly unprecedented under Bill Belichick. From 2018-20, for example, the Pats gave out a total of $53 million in guaranteed money to free agents. The team has about doubled that already in 2021. And it may not be done: Running back Leonard Fournette also reportedly is on the team's radar.
No team has been worse at tight end the past two seasons than the Pats since losing Rob Gronkowski, so Smith was an absolute necessity. Since 2019, New England tight ends have the fewest receptions (55), receiving yards (673), targets (87) and receiving touchdowns (3) from that position in the NFL. Smith had 41 catches for 448 yards and eight scores last season in a run-heavy Titans offense.
Agholor caught 48 balls for 896 yards and eight scores in 2020 for the Raiders, and Bourne had 49 catches for 667 yards and two scores with the Niners.
Judon, formerly of the Ravens, was one of three outside linebackers to produce at least 50 tackles, 5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits in 2020. Anderson and Godchaux should boost a run defense that ranked 26th last year. Mills had 74 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in 15 games last season for the Eagles. His addition could mean the end of Stephon Gilmore (one year left on contract) with the Pats, plus Jason McCourty is a free agent.
Don't forget, the team also this offseason has re-signed QB Cam Newton, traded for former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Brown and will get linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung back after they opted out of the 2020 season.
New England did lose excellent offensive lineman Joe Thuney to Kansas City in free agency. The 28-year-old left guard never missed a game or a start in his five seasons with the Patriots, becoming the first player in NFL history to open his career by starting in three straight Super Bowls.
Entering Monday, the SportsLine Projection Model forecasted the Patriots for 7.4 wins with a 9.5 percent chance of winning the AFC East and 28.9 percent shot at the playoffs. Those numbers are up to 8.1, 16.3 percent and 42.3 percent, respectively.
New England is still a +4000 longer shot to win Super Bowl 56 -- one thing to consider in the 2021 regular season: The Patriots will host Tom Brady and the Bucs. Think that will be in prime time? Buffalo remains the -155 AFC East favorite with Miami second at +300.
|Before FA signings||7.4||46.30%||9.50%||28.90%||0.90%||0.30%|
|After FA signings||8.1||50.60%||16.30%||42.30%||2.00%||0.90%|
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