The New England Patriots Are Blowing Free Agency

New England Patriots Introduce Jerod Mayo as Head Coach
New England Patriots Introduce Jerod Mayo as Head Coach / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The New England Patriots entered a period of transition this offseason after parting ways with Bill Belichick and replacing him with Jerod Mayo. It was, and is, going to be difficult. Belichick's preferences and way of thinking has molded the organization for two decades. Everybody working for the Patriots has never known another way (no pun intended) of going about things. The adjustment is only made that much harder by the fact that the roster needed a complete facelift after a truly depressing 2023 season.

In that regard, at least, New England had an advantage. They entered the 2024 offseason with $100 million to spend, the most in the entire league, and it was crystal clear what they needed-- talent at receiver and on the offensive line, as well as some sort of reinforcements in the quarterback room. With the first "wave" of free agency over and all the top-end talent signed days ago, the Patriots failed to add most of that and we've got enough names off the board to criticize New England's strategy. Because whatever it was, it didn't work, and they're failing free agency so far.

Let's start with what they did do. The Pats re-signed their best offensive lineman, Michael Onwenu, to a deal both sides can be happy with, and brought back Hunter Henry on a similar deal. That was good. They also signed Chukwuma Okafor, who will be 27 when next season kicks off and had a below-average PFF grade of 60.9 last season, as a low-cost depth signing. Also good. They brought in Jacoby Brissett for all veteran QB duties and inked Austin Hooper and Antonio Gibson to cheap deals. Nothing to complain about there. Smart teams with good rosters spend the most money to keep their own top talent and use the rest to fill in the margins.

As established, however, New England does not have a good roster. So trying to be a smart team is all well and good but a smart team would understand that this is the time to shell out the cash and maybe overpay on a few guys to ensure the overall talent level on the team rises to an acceptable point. Nobody wants to be that team who gave out many millions of dollars for mediocre players but there is a balance between that extreme and missing out on players who could help at positions of need because you're too worried about overpaying.

The Patriots appear to be falling into the latter camp, especially at the receiver position. It's been a weak spot for many, many years at this point and one would figure a cool hundred mil would be more than enough to fix that. And if not fix then at least address the problem. So far, no dice on that front. The most they've done is re-sign Kendrick Bourne to a cheap deal, which is all well and good because you certainly don't want to be losing talent at your worst position. But he tore his ACL on Halloween and even at his best tops out as a borderline No. 2/solid No. 3 wideout. They needed more help, they have the money to make just about anything happen, and the hardest they've tried to make something happen was entering into the Calvin Ridley sweepstakes.

Which, in many ways, is the launching point for this opinion. Ridley dragged out negotiations until 4pm on Wednesday and ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans for $50 million guaranteed. The Patriots were openly in on Ridley, as were the Jacksonville Jaguars, and reports since have suggested that $50 million is a lot higher than either of the other two teams were willing to go. The thing is, you can absolutely make a coherent argument that the Patriots should not have dropped north of $50 million guaranteed for a soon-to-be 30-year-old wideout who barely topped 1,000 yards catching passes from Trevor Lawrence last year. Missing out on that oppourtnity is not to be mourned. It's the fact that their pivot is reportedly to give up on free agent wideouts entirely and look towards the draft, as was the news in the immediate aftermath of the Ridley-Titans signing.

The team still has plenty of time to prove us wrong here but it is almost unbelievable that the current front office looked at a roster whose leading receiver had 561 yards and decide they'll pass on spending any money to reinforce the position. You want suggestions? Hollywood Brown would do. Or Tyler Boyd. An Odell Beckham-type veteran who doesn't have many good years left would constitute a substantive upgrade. Hell, just a DJ Chark or Josh Reynolds journeyman would help.

At the end of the day it isn't a great team-building move to throw money around just because you have it. The Patriots themselves learned that lesson the hard way three years ago when they shoveled cash at Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor. Maybe that's informing their decision-making this offseason. But their team was bad last year and they haven't used free agency to help fix that so far. New England is blowing their first chance at reshaping the roster post-Belichick and it's hard to understand why.