After hanging out on the beach (quite literally) while the early free agency waters were raging, the New England Patriots jumped onto the second wave on Thursday: the team reportedly signed five unrestricted free agents in the form of wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, special teams safety Terrence Brooks, defensive tackle Mike Pennel and to close out the day tight end Matt LaCosse.
While the group does not feature the biggest of names, it certainly includes players capable of making an impact in all three phases of the game. Whether or not this will actually happen remains to be seen, but Patriots followers have at least somewhat mixed feelings regarding the five men. While all five of the acquisitions were seen as positive in our fan polls attached to the story of each signing, some graded out better than others.
Let’s quickly run through them.
DT Mike Pennel
Despite being one of the better run-stuffers in football last year, the New York Jets opted to decline Mike Pennel’s contract option for 2019. This, in turn, allowed him to sign with the club’s rivals in New England — a signing that is seen as a positive one by Patriots fans, earning a B grade from more than half of the 2,042 voters. When putting numerical values to the grades (A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, F=5), we can see that the 27-year-old earns an average of 2.04 points. Possibly the player with the highest potential for a day-one impact brought in so far, Pennel enters the world champions’ roster with comparatively high expectations.
TE Matt LaCosse
The tight end, who is entering his fifth season in the league, entered the open market after the Denver Broncos declined to tender the would-be restricted free agent. Since he has a realistic shot at earning the number two tight end role alongside Rob Gronkowski, Patriots fans have graded the signing closer to B than C — his point average of 2.48 make the acquisition of LaCosse the second most popular among the five taking place yesterday.
DB Terrence Brooks
While listed as a safety, Terrence Brooks’ impact is projected to come primarily on special teams: no player in the NFL played more snaps in the kicking game than the 27-year-old during the 2018 regular season. The former New York Jet may not get the biggest role outside of the game’s third phase, but his acquisition was still seen as mostly positive: he earned a 2.54 point average — on the edge between B and C, but still rather solid.
WR Bruce Ellington
One of two wide receivers signed by the Patriots on Thursday, Bruce Ellington received the better grades than Maurice Harris. All in all, the former Houston Texans and Detroit Lions wideout earned an average of 2.73 points or roughly equivalent of a C, a grade 42% of the 683 voters picked. As comparatively average as the signing is viewed, the 27-year-old does have some upside to improve his grade: he has experience as a returnman and could help fill the void created by Cordarrelle Patterson’s free agency departure. Furthermore, Ellington will not count against the compensatory draft picks formula as he was released from his last job.
WR Maurice Harris
Like Ellington, Maurice Harris is viewed a bit more critical than the other three pickups. One reason for that might be his position: wide receiver is a prominent spot, but bigger-name second-wave players like Golden Tate or Randall Cobb were not signed by the Patriots (yet, in Cobb’s potential case). Instead, Harris was brought on board — an acquisition that earned a C from 45% of the 2,636 voters; the equivalent of 2.85 points on a numerical scale. Not bad per se, but clearly lacking compared to a players like Mike Pennel.
All in all, though, none of the five moves earned a failing grade which shows that Patriots fans’ expectations at this point in free agency could very well be summed up by this quote from Alec Shane’s article Why do Patriots fans worry during free agency?: “The Patriots are going to be fine — they always are, and there are 18 seasons of evidence to back that up.” Hard to argue with that.