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2021 NFL free agency: Aggressive Patriots steal the show as the legal tampering window opens

Related: Patriots free agency tracker: News, rumors, signings, instant analysis

Arizona Cardinals v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are usually known for not being among the NFL’s most active teams early in free agency. In year’s past, they consistently sat back and let the big-name free agents be signed by other clubs. Entering this year’s legal tampering period among the league leaders in salary cap space, however, the Patriots took a different approach.

They were aggressive.

They were quite aggressive.

They were more aggressive than any other team in the league.

In total, the Patriots handed out over $200 million worth of contracts on Monday alone — an unprecedented number not just for the team itself but the NFL as a whole. In total, seven players were brought in from the outside to bolster a roster that went just 7-9 last season and had holes across the board.

New England had the resources to fill those holes, and Bill Belichick and company did just that. On top of those outside additions, the team also re-signed two of its own free agents. And even though they had to watch two players leave to sign new deals elsewhere, the Patriots still finished the day with a better overall talent level than they entered it with.

That all being said, let’s recap the action.

Outside free agents signed

TE Jonnu Smith (4 years, $50 million): One of the top offensive skill position players available this year, Smith gives the Patriots’ a viable number one tight end. A strong blocker and dynamic player with the ball in his hands as well, he instantly makes New England’s receiving group a better one and takes pressure of youngsters Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.

DT Davon Godchaux (2 years, $16 million): New England failed to properly control the line of scrimmage on defense in 2020, especially versus the run. Godchaux now gives the team a big-bodied option to do just that. While he is not expected to make much of an impact as a pass rusher, he should help the Patriots improve their run defense.

LB Matthew Judon (4 years, $56 million): A versatile edge player who appears to be well-suited to play in New England’s hybrid defensive scheme, Judon is not just disruptive off the edge but also versatile enough to fill other roles. The 28-year-old therefore fits what the Patriots have recently been looking for on the defensive side of the ball.

DB Jalen Mills (4 years, $24 million): Speaking of versatile players, Mills is one as well. While he started his career as a cornerback, he has since moved on to become a do-it-all member of Philadelphia’s secondary. Where he will end up in New England remains to be seen, but the Patriots surely will have a role in mind for him.

WR Nelson Agholor (2 years, $26 million): Coming off arguably the best season of his career, the Patriots made a notable investment to bring the former first-round draft aboard. While his eventual role with the team has yet to be determine, his skillset makes him a solid fit to fill the Z-receiver role and move between the perimeter and the slot on a regular basis.

WR Kendrick Bourne (3 years, $22.5 million): Another wide receiver who entered free coming off a career season, Bourne was not as much of a big-play threat as Agholor but still a solid pass catcher in San Francisco. At 25 years old he is still young, and will give New England another versatile player to transform its struggling wide receiver room.

DT Henry Anderson (2 years, $7 million): Anderson is a big-bodied interior defensive lineman that has proven himself in an area the Patriots have had issues with last year: he is one of the better players in the league at his position when it comes stopping the run. This plus some added upside versus the pass make the 29-year-old an intriguing signing.

In-house free agents re-signed

DT Deatrich Wise Jr. (4 years, $30 million): No player along the Patriots’ interior defensive line played more snaps last year than Wise Jr, and New England decided to bring him back following his rookie deal. The former fourth-round draft pick has reportedly signed a four-year deal with the club, which can be seen as a reflection of how the team envisions his contributions in the future.

DT Carl Davis (TBD): Even though concussion issues limited Davis to just three games as a Patriot in 2020, the team apparently felt strongly enough to bring him back. At the very least, the 29-year-old gives New England another cost-effective option to compete for playing time or a roster spot at the nose tackle position.

In-house free agents lost

G Joe Thuney to Kansas City (5 years, $80 million): Following the footsteps of former teammates Nate Solder and Trent Brown, Joe Thuney has now also left New England to sign a record-breaking deal elsewhere. While Kansas City structured the contract to limit its impact on the 2020 salary cap, the deal itself is still averaging $16 million per year and including up to $48 million in guarantees over the first three years alone.

S Terrence Brooks to Houston (1 year, $2 million): While Brooks still saw regular action as a member of New England’s kicking game operation last season, he was given fewer opportunities on the defensive side of the ball. Accordingly, the writing was on the wall for him to leave the Patriots. He did just that, agreeing to join Houston on a one-year pact.