Patriots Gifted Unexpected Free Agency Grade Despite No Blockbusters

Robert Kraft and Jerod Mayo

Getty Images Robert Kraft and Jerod Mayo

After experiencing consecutive disappointing seasons, the New England Patriots appeared poised for a resurgence during the 2024 offseason with the second most available cap space in pro football.

With nearly $100 million in cap space and a top-3 draft pick for the first time in three decades, new head coach Jerod Mayo seemed to have ample resources to facilitate the team’s turnaround.

Expectations were high as the free agency period commenced, mainly since Mayo had already assembled his coaching staff, and Eliot Wolf was designated the de facto general manager.

Mayo set the tone by saying the Patriots had some “cash to burn” but ultimately clarified what those statements meant in a bit of a backpedal. Still, it felt like the big free agent splash never came. Despite the lack of a blockbuster signing, Pro Football Focus (PFF) has granted the Patriots a free agency grade of B+.

PFF’s Surprising B+ Free Agency Grade for New England

Despite the underwhelming fan reaction, PFF surprised many by awarding the Patriots a commendable grade of B+ for their free agency maneuvers, one of the highest grades among all 32 teams. Here is a list of the moves the Patriots have made so far during the free agency period:

“The Patriots have constantly moved Onwenu around the offensive line, appeared to have drafted a few potential replacements in recent years and waited until the guard market exploded over the past week before seemingly giving in on all of Onwenu’s wishes,” PFF’s Brad Spielberger wrote in a story published March 18.

“Onwenu gets nearly $20 million annually but also gives up only three years of his services. The Michigan graduate negotiated his own deal after firing his agents a week before free agency, and he did remarkably well for himself in the end.”

However, Spielberger also underscored the need for the Patriots to utilize their remaining cap space more aggressively to surround their presumed rookie quarterback, whom they are expected to select in the upcoming draft, with a stronger supporting cast. It makes one wonder if the B+ grade is also due in large part to the remaining cap space available.

“The Patriots have a ton of cash to burn and need a better situation around their next franchise quarterback, and Henry has been characterized as a leader on this offense,” Spielberger wrote.

“That said, this is a strong deal for a tight end who will turn 30 years old in 2024. Bourne is recovering from a torn ACL and is reportedly on track to suit up in Week 1. He was in the midst of his best season when he went down. New England at least has a few reliable pass catchers in the fold, but they still need to go big-game hunting.”

The Patriots’ External Additions & Misses

While the re-signings were undoubtedly crucial, the apparent reluctance to invest in external talent, despite ample financial resources, raises concerns about the team’s commitment to addressing pressing needs, particularly on offense.

The most significant external addition was former Commanders running back Antonio Gibson. Gibson is an excellent pass catcher who played wide receiver at the University of Memphis. However, many lists, including PFF’s, didn’t rank Gibson among the top 10 running backs available at the start of free agency. For Gibson to be the most notable offensive addition to date is a bit underwhelming despite how crucial of a role he may play.

With Rhamondre Stevenson still holding the RB1 job, there was not much of a need for the Patriots to target a top rusher, but there was a massive need for them to target a top receiver in free agency. That looks like an absolute fumble as of now. They did bring back Kendrick Bourne, but he isn’t a WR1.

Despite pursuing former Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley with aggression and a serious offer, the Patriots lost out on the star WR when he signed with Tennessee. The Patriots were also linked to Buccaneers star WR Mike Evans, but he’s returning to Tampa Bay.

The Patriots did add ex-Vikings WR K.J. Osborn, who has shown flashes of potential. However, he’s still just a depth piece at the WR position and is by no means an offensive game-changer. The Patriots may need to look to the draft or trade to add a dynamic pass catcher to the WR room.

As stated by PFF, the Patriots’ re-signing of Mike Onwneu was a massive need this offseason. But many thought they would also target the Bengals’ Jonah Williams or the Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, two offensive line vets who would immediately impact the Patriots’ lackluster offensive line.

Nothing has materialized on the offensive line front regarding external additions. It may just be another position that has to be addressed via the draft, but those positions are adding up.

More of the Same From the Patriots Front Office?

Fans anticipated a flurry of activity in free agency, hoping to see the Patriots pursue and acquire top-tier talent to bolster the team’s roster for the upcoming season. And despite the positive PFF grade of B+, it’s still contingent on more moves to strengthen the offense.

There is no arguing that the initial phase of free agency did not unfold as many had hoped. Instead, it followed a familiar script, mirroring Belichick’s historical approach of passing on marquee players and opting for modest signings on short-term contracts.

While the Patriots successfully retained critical impending free agents without overspending, their reluctance to pursue external talent left some fans disappointed, yearning for a departure from the previous regime’s conservative approach.

As the offseason progresses, Patriots fans remain hopeful that the team will capitalize on its remaining opportunities to bolster the roster and position themselves for significant improvement from the 2023 season.

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