Free agency defined by Patriots’ spending spree

New England spent a franchise record $170 million on 19 different signings


Hunter Henry signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Patriots.

Nick Briggs, Contributing Writer

March 15 marked the true start of NFL free agency as teams were able to enter the legal tampering period to discuss potential deals with players whose contracts had expired with their previous teams. This  year, COVID-19 lowered NFL league-wide revenue and drastically available cap space for the first time in what feels like a millennium, but this did not stop certain teams from spending. Among the spenders are the New England Patriots.

Head Coach and General Manager Bill Belichick wasted little time making splashes in free agency with what some may call a generally uncharacteristic series of transactions for the New England Patriots. By the end of the week, New England had spent a franchise record $170 million on 19 different free agent signings. Large contracts were doled out to the former Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith and former Ravens pass rusher Matt Judon.

While there have been a wide variety of reactions regarding the spending of the Patriots this off-season, one thing is for certain: Coach Belichick is adamant about distancing the franchise from its previous 7-9 finish. Belichick is willing to change up the roster if that equates to a return to the playoffs this upcoming season.

However, New England was not the only team that decided to open the checkbook up to better their roster. Other top free agency spenders included the Jacksonville Jaguars, who added former Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin; the Arizona Cardinals, who added former Texans all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt; and the Cincinnati Bengals, who added former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

Arizona has been a surprise spender, adding both J.J. Watt and former pro-bowl Bengals receiver A.J. Green. These are moves that one might expect a Super Bowl contender to make. These “win now, worry about the future later” moves are aimed at maximizing the team’s overall potential while quarterback Kyler Murray rides out the remainder of his rookie deal. Although Arizona missed out on the playoffs last season, these signings signify to the rest of the league that the team believes they are only a few pieces away from going on a real playoff run. Although they play in a very difficult division, maybe these additions will be enough to get Arizona back in the playoff hunt this season.

Here is a quick recap of some of the other major signings that occurred last week — the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to keep most of the band together, with the team franchise tagging standout receiver Chris Godwin and re-signing tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Lavonte David and premier edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. In terms of defensive linemen, the Jets signed former Bengals pass rusher Carl Lawson, the Vikings signed former Giants defensive standout Dalvin Tomlinson and the Titans signed veteran pass rusher Bud Dupree, who is coming off of a major ACL injury.

Some teams were not as fortunate. In a year where the salary cap decreased, organizations such as the New Orleans Saints were forced to cut and restructure the contracts of more than 10 players, including former pro-bowl cornerback Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins, to get under the salary cap. The Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons are just a few of the other teams who — because of cap constraints — had to let players walk whom they may have otherwise offered new contracts to.

A lot of teams got better on paper this week, specifically the New England Patriots. Some, one could argue, got much worse, like the Las Vegas Raiders. None of this matters, however, if these signings do not translate to wins next season. The Green Bay Packers have yet to spend a dime on a free agent from another team —albeit they did re-sign running back Aaron Jones. The pack is not prioritizing adding new pieces, which is true for many teams.

There will still be a series of sporadic veteran signings that occur between now and the start of the 2021-22 NFL season, and it is always interesting to see new faces in new places. When the first kickoff occurs in September, we will begin to see just how impactful this free agency period was for each team.