FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts. — Billy Big Bucks! What’s wrong with you?
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was unusually active Monday, as it was the first day he was able to negotiate with free agents from other teams.
Between contracts with the Tennessee Titans’ Jonnu Smith, the Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Matthew Judon, the Miami Dolphins’ Davon Godchaux, and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jaylen Mills, Belichick gave $81 million in bonuses and guarantees. And that’s before he signed receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourn and linebacker Henry Anderson later in the day.
Think how unusual this is: The Patriots have spent $51 million on bonuses and guarantees for free agents over the past three seasons.
As for sudden changes, there are several ways to look at it.
Perhaps Belichick is so motivated by the sight of quarterback Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he has officially embarked on the 2021 revenge tour?
It’s fun and there can be some competitive spirit, but it doesn’t seem to catch on.
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One more thought: Belichick is the bottom line, he just evaluated a team that had a 7-9 season – the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years – and realized they weren’t very good. While he would have preferred to get out, develop and reposition players, especially at the tight end and wide receiver positions, to help an offense that ranks 30th in yards per game, that wasn’t an option. The same goes for defensive tackles, which help a shaky defense.
That makes sense, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
What led most directly to this aggressive approach, according to those familiar with the mindset, was the perception that the 2021 offseason was a rare opportunity based on a drastic reduction in the NFL salary cap.
Remember, the limit was raised to $182.5 million this year. In 2020, it was $198.2 million. This is the first decrease since the collective agreement was signed in 2011.
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This reduced the number of teams the Patriots had to compete with for free agents, as many teams fought to get under the cap. This has increased the number of free agents and made players available that otherwise would not have been on the market. Remember, Smith and Bourn are 25, Godchaux and Mills are 26, Agholor is 27 and Judon is 28.
With a plethora of salary cap issues and knowing the ceiling will skyrocket in the coming years due to television broadcasts, Belichick and the Patriots put on a show like never before.
In a perfect world for the Patriots, they took advantage of unprecedented market conditions and greatly improved the team.
In the worst case scenario, they change their minds, deviate too far from their draft and development roots by betting too much on out-of-state players, and end up paying the same price as other teams that also won Free Agency in March in recent years.
For now, there is optimism at One Patriot Place, where a new parking lot for the Brinks truck may have to be built to allow for the team’s arrival.