Something felt different about the 2019-2020 NFL season. It wasn’t just the lack of fans due to the pandemic, or even the amount of injuries we saw strike, but the fact that for the first time in 20 years, Tom Brady was not a New England Patriot.
After moving to the NFC Conference, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, while the Pats didn’t scratch the playoffs. Bill Belichick, thought of as the mastermind behind the Pat’s success, was under a different spotlight. What could he do to prove he could succeed without Brady? I believe NFL fans had big expectations for New England’s offseason, but it has surprised many of us what Belichick has done thus far. Have the Patriots won free agency? Here are the major moves they made and their potential impacts.
With nearly $56 million in cap space entering the free agency period, the Patriots made their quarterback expectations clear by re-signing Cam Newton to a one-year deal. Then they aggressively surrounded him with weapons by signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Both are supportive receivers who have time to develop into lead roles. Tight ends have always been a big part of the Patriots’ offense, which was proven as New England signed Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as well. Henry had 60 receptions and 4 touchdowns in 14 starts last year while Jonnu Smith had 41 catches along with 8 touchdowns in the same amount of games. The goal was clearly to provide Cam Newton with reliable pass options along with strong red zone scorers. Newton had just eight passing touchdowns last year, and that will need to change for New England to compete. And if not, Jarrett Stidham could always develop under this new offense if Newton doesn’t prove his worth in this next season. The final piece was to improve the line. A reliable tackle has been missing ever since Nate Solder left, but the Pats solved that by trading for Trent Brown from the Raiders. Brown has a year left on his deal which means the Pats could rid of him with ease if he’s not a good fit.
These move beg the question: With stronger options, and an improved line, can Cam Newton lead the Patriots to the playoffs?
Although offense was a priority to fix, defense was not just an afterthought for Belichick. They lost Patrick Chung, Adam Butler and Brandon Campbell to retirement and other teams, but they signed LB Matthew Judon, Jalen Mills, Kyle Van Noy and several others to fill those gaps. These younger players can provide value in the long run, and help mantain one of the top pass defenses in the league.
New England still has roughly $11 million in cap space, as well as 10 picks in the upcoming draft (six of them in the first four rounds). The Patriots still have plenty of opportunities to pick up talent and provide replacements to players such as Joe Thuney. These moves, on top of what’s to come, could turn around the New England narrative, but until the season plays out we can only guess on the fate of the Patriots’ upcoming season.