Don’t look now, but Cam Newton has some new weapons in the passing.
The New England Patriots are going bananas in free agency. On a day that has seen the team add to its wide receiver corps, beleaguered tight end group and its defense, New England has reportedly netted a former Super Bowl foe in 27-year-old Nelson Agholor on the first day of legal tampering.
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The Patriots gave the former Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles wideout a two-year $26 million deal, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Patriots are giving former Raiders’ WR Nelson Agholor a two-year, $26 million deal, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2021
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo offered more context on Agholor’s new deal, saying it guarantees $11 million per season over the next two years.
WR Nelson Agholor’s deal with the #Patriots has a base value of $11 million per season. Incentives can push it to $13 million per year. This after he played on the veteran minimum last year.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 15, 2021
The reaction from NFL Twitter was all over the place after the Patriots’ rash of agreements with free agents.
Twitter Reacts to Agholor’s Move
EA Sports’ Andre Weingarten wondered if Agholor will be as effective without a field-stretcher like Henry Ruggs on the other side of the field.
(Nelson Agholor was pretty good last year, but I think that had a lot to do with defenses being overly careful against Henry Ruggs. We will see what he can do when he doesn't have that (unless NE goes after Curtis Samuel still lol)
— Andre Weingarten (@Swami_EA) March 15, 2021
Conceptually, this makes sense, but when you look at the large disparity in production between Agholor and Ruggs, there are some holes in this layer of skepticism. Agholor played in all 16 games, while Ruggs appeared in just 13. While on the field, Ruggs’ speed is definitely a factor defenses have to account for, but talking him up as some Tyreek-Hill-like presence is probably overstating his impact.
Ruggs had just 26 catches for 452 yards and 2 touchdowns as a rookie in 2020. Needless to say, he didn’t wreck anyone’s gameplan, and I hesitate to believe NFL defensive coordinators were overcompensating for a rookie who truthfully hasn’t done anything on the NFL level.
Meanwhile, Agholor, the second-most targeted receiver on the team behind tight end Darren Waller, had 48 receptions for 896 yards and 8 touchdowns. No way teams are ignoring the far more productive player, who, by the way, as Next-Gen Stats shows, proved to be one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats in 2020.
The Patriots add a deep threat in Nelson Agholor, who led the NFL with 2.8 yards per vertical route in 2020 (min. 100 vertical routes).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 15, 2021
Guy Boston Sports captured one of Agholor’s splash plays from 2020:
Nelson Agholor was one of the best deep threats in the league last season 🙌pic.twitter.com/fTLAdzEnqU
— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) March 15, 2021
Chem Knights’ Ethan Hammerman said he doesn’t think many people had the pleasure of watching Agholor play, based on their negative responses:
It's very clear to me that a lot of people didn't watch Nelson Agholor last year
— Ethan Hammerman (@Ethanhamm) March 15, 2021
Bill Belichick has a history of acquiring players who have performed well against his teams in the past. Agholor would qualify for this distinction based on his performance in the 2018 Super Bowl, which NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano points out:
Nelson Agholor had 9 receptions against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Now he’s joining the Patriots.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) March 15, 2021
Where Does Agholor Fit?
Quite honestly, Agholor might be the Patriots’ new No. 1 receiver. Before the Patriots went on a free-agent spending frenzy on Monday acquiring Agholor, WR Kendrick Bourne, TE Jonnu Smith, edge defender Matthew Judon, DT Davon Godchaux, CB Jalen Mills and re-signed DE Deatrich Wise and DT Carl Davis, we might have looked at Jakobi Meyers as the main guy.
Now, Agholor is likely the primary guy, with Bourne and Meyers jostling for the No. 2 spot and N’Keal Harry possibly in the mix — if he isn’t traded. We don’t know if Damiere Byrd will be back next season, and we also don’t know if Gunner Olszewski will have a larger role in the passing game. Finally, we don’t know how much of an impact Julian Edelman will be able to make after spending most of last season on the shelf with a knee injury.
Nonetheless, with everything the Patriots added on the very first day of free agency, their passing game looks exponentially better.
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