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New England Patriots News 03-21, Early Free Agent Signings A Big Plus

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
March 21, 2021 at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots News 03-21, Early Free Agent Signings A Big Plus(PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 8 minutes

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-21 this week. The first wave of free agency featured a lot of activity by the Patriots, who were very aggressive in the early going

Please check out our draft profiles as we inch closer to the 2021 NFL Draft. 

Have you checked out our team news feature for all 32 teams yet? It is a great resource to keep up with what is going on all across the NFL. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

Jonnu Smith: The Patriots signed the tight end right at the outset of the free agency period and in his first public statements as a Patriot had some interesting things to say. 

 “I’ve seen the success that they had with two-tight end sets years ago, and it just shows how creative they can be,” he said on the NFL Network this week. “Me and Hunter — I’m a competitor, and I’m sure he’s a hell of a competitor as well. Just being able to go in there and always try to outwork each other is only going to make us better I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for the opportunity, and I’m just ready to get to it.”

Hunter Henry: The other half of the tight end duo that New England signed was also excited to be a member of the Patriots. In an interview with Megan O’Brien of, Henry was asked about his early reaction to playing for the Patriots.

“It’s been good. It’s been different. It’s been a good different,” the Patriots’ newest tight end told’s Megan O’Brien on joining the Patriots. “I’m very, very excited. I’m ready to immerse myself into this culture, into Foxborough, into everything. Obviously, it’s a winning tradition, so I’m very excited.”

“I’m a guy who’s going to give everything I can, every single week.”

Salary Cap Questions? Ask Miguel: There is no one with more knowledge when it comes to NE’s salary cap than our old buddy Miguel Benzan aka @Patscap. If you’re going anywhere else for salary cap information, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

4th & 2 Podcast – If you haven’t checked out our podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Russ, Derek, and I recorded a podcast where we discussed the early free agency moves.

Russ Francis/ Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

The Patriots Rebuild is Off to a Very Fast Start, Now What is Next?

The Patriots were extremely active and filled a lot of holes in their roster, of which there were plenty. If you haven’t read it yet, former Patriots and Belichick confidant, Michael Lombardi penned an extremely intriguing article in the Athletic about Belichick’s rebuild of the team. And how it adheres to his core principles. 

As Lombardi wrote, Belichick since 1991 with Cleveland wants a team that “to control the middle of the field and make the defense defend inside, forcing them to handle an inside run and a passing game. Conversely, on defense to defend the middle, he wanted to force the offense to win on the outside.”

Describing the rebuild in terms of “MUSTS, NEEDS, and WANTS”, the words are easy to understand, Musts are fundamental positions that without solid personnel the team won’t make any progress. Needs are where the team needs to improve and can be met with a veteran or a young player making the next step. And finally, wants are players that the team can win without but would make the team even better on the field. 

“Belichick was going to take back the middle of the field on both sides of the ball. His defense needed to set the edge, rush the passer with more speed and have more physical play inside. He needed more speed on offense, more talent to attack the middle and more players who could put the ball into the endzone. Everything in New England starts with being physical in all areas, and Belichick knew he needed to add physical talent to his roster.”

So, that is his philosophy, let’s take a look at how we saw the holes on the roster and how Belichick the GM has thus far filled those. 

QB – With only Jarrett Stidham signed earlier, signing a QB or two is to quote Lombardi a “MUST”. They brought back Cam Newton on a one-year deal. But beyond the screaming of some media and fans, it came with no set guarantee of starting; it would have to be earned. Does that sound like their set? Nope. 

Next: It seems like their intent on finding their next QB in the draft or if by some weird twist of fate, Jimmy G., Marcus Mariota appear or Deshaun Watson magically drops into their lap. I think it is the draft. 

TE – We don’t need to (nor want to) get into how bad the Patriots’ tight ends have been the past two years…you saw it, ‘nuff said. So, the top two free agents available were both signed by New England, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

Smith was my #1 wish for free agency and immediately gives the Patriots a proven red-zone target, something they’ve lacked. Henry is another good RZ option and the pair will allow the Patriots to run a two-TE system that should immediately transform the offense. Ryan Izzo was traded, and Matt LaCosse better have the best offseason of his career. 

Next: No further additions here, now they can allow 2nd-year players Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene to develop. 

WR – Ditto for the wide receivers. At this point can they expect to rely on Julian Edelman despite his knee issues? Sadly, no. The team targeted and signed two of the second-tier receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to go along with Jakobi Meyers. Edelman and Gunner Olszewski. Agholor gives the team a YAC (yards after catch) threat they have sorely needed. 

The offense will go through the tight ends but these WRs can and should upgrade the passing attack. Will N’Keal Harry be traded? I’d like to see him remain and realize his potential, but there is no telling. 

Next: With Marquise Lee (opt-out in 2020) released, the team needs another wide receiver and the draft is deep in them. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking (Thomas Magnum quote), but there are plenty to pick from. 

DL – The defensive line and linebackers of the front seven were a big, big area of need after the Patriots were bullied on the ground. With Adam Butler (signed by Miami), Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Deatrich Wise all free agents, they needed an upgrade of youth, athleticism, and toughness. 

Wise and Davis were re-signed, the team added Davon Godchaux, a nose tackle from Miami, Henry Anderson, a big physical run-stuffer with the ability to rush the passer from the Jets. They also added Montravius Adams from Green Bay as another big body inside. I’m not sold on Adams yet but with younger players Akeem Spence and Byron Cowart still on the roster, they’re in much better shape. The team released NT Beau Allen who never played for them in 2020. They still could use another big body for the interior DL. 

Next: Getting Guy back would be a plus, but one intriguing option (other than the draft) could be the big, and productive Geno Atkins, who is aging but could be a nice one-year rental. 

OL – more to this below, but the team knew that Joe Thuney was as good as gone this spring, and that is a loss, especially going to the Chiefs. But the return of Trent Brown, the massive tackle who can play either the right or left side and is just 27 is a huge boost to an already good offensive line. 

So much so that Marcus Cannon, the aging but solid right tackle was traded to Houston, thus saving the team nearly $7 million. With Isaiah Wynn at LT, Michael Onwenu moving from RT to LG, David Andrews returning at center, Shaq Mason at RG, and Brown at RT, the offensive line looks to be very, very good. At least on paper. Justin Herron and Ted Karras as the backups at swing tackle and the interior respectively, the team still has Yodny Cajuste as well and can see if there is anything there. 

Next: The starters look to be set, but another interior OL should be looked for in the draft. And a tackle wouldn’t be surprising either as both Wynn and Brown can be free agents in 2022.  

LB – The Patriots lost Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts via free agency last spring. Worse, Dont’a Hightower opted out. Too much was placed on the plate of Ja’Whaun Bentley. Brandon Copeland played well but was lost to IR, young rookie player Anfernee Jennings was asked to do a lot, while Josh Uche was hurt but showed flashes of being a productive pass rusher. Chase Winovich is a good pass rusher but has issues setting the edge. 

Hightower is back, and now so is Van Noy. The team signed Matt Judon from the Ravens and that gives the team a valuable chess piece who can move around and do a multitude of things on the field. Now the pass rush with Judon, Hightower, Van Noy, Uche, and Winovich should be much improved. The team added ILB Raekwon McMillen who should immediately upgrade their inside rush defense. 

Next: Their depth has been really improved, so immediate help isn’t a need, but a youthful linebacker in the draft (several good ones are available) would be a nice addition.

RB – Damien Harris and Sony Michel are back and should give the team a nice 1-2 combination. I think Harris’s pass-catching ability is an underrated and untapped source of production. J.J. Taylor is a nice change of pace back, while Brandon Bolden is an STs player. I think James White is gone. Rex Burkhead is a free agent and coming off an ACL tear. 

The team kicked the tires on Leonard Fournette. And was I the only surprised at little Phillip Lyndsey signed for with Houston? I thought he would have been a nice fit. 

Next: I think they’ll bring back Burkhead, the coaches love his versatility. And the draft is full of good running backs and finding a pass-catching one should be on their agenda.

The team had a very good start to free agency, and the contracts are all worked so that the cap hits for 2021 are all pretty small to place the bigger cap hits on later years when the big television contract should inflate the cap levels. The rebuild is underway and with a few more added pieces, this should prove to be an interesting 2021. 

David Andrews/Ted Karras Signings A Huge Plus for the OL:

The Patriots, in a surprise move, snatched David Andrews back after it appeared he was close to signing a free-agent deal with Miami. The return of Andrews as well as Ted Karras, who returned after one season in Miami is a huge plus for the offense. 

Andrews has been a standout both on the field and off of it for the Patriots since coming out of Georgia in 2016. It is now hard to believe but Andrews was a UDFA. Karras was signed, ostensibly as a replacement for Andrews, now he’ll revert to a backup role. 

But this was a huge win for the Patriots, the offensive line will be (on paper) stacked, and the running game, already pretty good, should be excellent with the additions of not only Brown, Karras, and Andrews returning but adding two very good tight ends into the mix. The Patriots 12 personnel package should be excellent this year. 


“We are excited about the additions to our roster so far this year,” Belichick said. “Whether by trade, free agency or re-signings, the group brings a good mix of offense, defense, and special teams. It was great to see them in the building, including some familiar faces, and we are all looking forward to continue building toward the upcoming season.”

Bill Belichick’s comments about the opening week of free agency, the first we’ve heard from him since he turned down his Presidential Medal of Freedom honor. 


“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


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Five Patriots/NFL Things to Know 3/22

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Cam Newton Jimmy Garoppolo New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers

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