I can’t believe it’s already June, and that we’re already into the single digits on our offseason countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2021. Training camp will be here before we know it.
Hopefully you all have Summer Fridays at your respective places of employment and only have an hour or so to go before your weekend starts. So let’s kill some more time together.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick.
19. A Week 1 goal line fumble costs the Patriots the game at home against the Miami Dolphins.
18. A four interception day secures New England’s first win of the season against the New York Jets.
17. Mac Jones hits Nelson Agholor for the first TD of the season against the Miami Dolphins.
16. A 41-yard Kendrick Bourne TD reception opens the game up against the Tennessee Titans.
15. A late Nick Folk field goal caps off a 15 play game-winning drive over the Houston Texans.
14. Mac Jones is named the starter over Cam Newton.
13. Nick Folk can’t connect on a 56 yard FG attempt to complete the comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12. An Adrian Phillips pick-six seals the game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
11. Kendrick Bourne connects with Nelson Agholor to kick off an epic beatdown of the New York Jets.
10. A quick out to Jakobi Meyers results in his first career touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.
At Number 9, we have a moment that not only generated a ton of excitement for the season, but had a lasting impact on future seasons as well.
9. Free Agent Frenzy.
It’s pretty sweet being a Patriots fan of the 21st century. New England has been the most dominant franchise in professional sports for two straight decades, with six championship banners hanging from the Gillette Stadium rafters. New England was always in the Super Bowl conversation, and more often than not the only real uncertainty surrounding a given Patriots year was whether or not they’d be hosting the AFC Championship Game or if they’d have to travel.
The downside to that unparalleled success, though, was that every March, we all had to sit and watch as 31 other teams went crazy signing all of the big name free agents that just became available. All of the offseason speculation about who was going to go where quickly went away as marquis players got big contracts with new franchises. The Browns always seemed to go big every March. The Jets and Dolphins often made big signings. Certain teams went from fringe playoff squads to championship caliber seemingly overnight as they bolstered their roster with studs. And throughout it all, tumbleweeds blew across Patriots Twitter as the front office did what it always does: sat back, let other teams overpay, let the market settle, and then target solid, good-fit guys on Days 2 and 3 of free agency. Guys that weren’t going to draw big headlines, but represented a solid roster move that filled needs. The Brandon LaFells and Adrian Phillips of the NFL rarely went right away, but when they came to New England, they often turned out to be among the better signings of that offseason. It was never overly exciting, and it was hard not to feel like we were on the outside looking in every March as other fans got to fawn over their shiny new toys, but the in-season results were hard to argue with. A dull free agency period was simply something we as Patriots fans have come to expect and deal with.
2021, however, was a different story altogether.
There were some big names out there entering 2021 free agency, but few around New England paid much attention. After all, why should we? We all knew how this story goes. And as the legal tampering period began, we all had one eye on the waiver wire to see which teams other than the Patriots they’d all be going to. We’d all start paying attention again in a few days once all the big names were gone.
Imagine our surprise, and I’ll admit it, our delight, when the Patriots began handing out an NFL record $160 million dollars in guaranteed money to a whopping 11 players over a nine day span. Even crazier is that they signed not one, but BOTH of the top two tight ends on the market in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, before free agency even officially started. They brought in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to bolster the receiving corps. They signed Jalen Mills as an additional defensive back. Davon Godchaux was there to shore up the defensive line. They brought back team and fan favorite Kyle van Noy as a middle linebacker. The Human Mountain known to some as Trent Brown returned. And they signed EDGE rusher Matthew Judon away from the Baltimore Ravens. For the first time in forever, the New England Patriots won the offseason.
The majority of New England’s FA signings have worked out quite well; Hunter Henry has become one of Mac Jones’s favorite targets, and Kendrick Bourne is a fantastic addition to the offense. Godchaux is a key player along the line, and Van Noy was his usual, solid self. Trent Brown picked up right where he left off. Other players, like Agholor and Smith, showed flashes at times, and clearly have the tools, but we’re all hoping that this upcoming season will represent a big leap forward for them. But hands down and running away, the best FA signing the Patriots made during the 2021 season was Matthews Judon. Judon has been an absolute beast for this team, earning a Pro Bowl bid last season as the team’s leading pass rusher and anchor along the edge. He’s a team leader, fan favorite, and those red sleeves strike fear into QBs league-wide. Judon has even taken on an additional role of talent scout and recruiter, as he launched an aggressive Twitter campaign to get guys to come to New England. Judon is among the best free agents Bill Belichick has ever brought in, and his arrow continues to point up. Overall, the 2021 free agent class represents the new foundation of what will hopefully be the next era of the New England Patriots dynasty.
We’re back to normal in 2022, with a very boring FA period and boring draft, which hopefully means that it’s back to a deep playoff run for this team. But March of 2021 was hands down the best March I’ve ever had from a Pats fan perspective and a fun glimpse into what that time of year is like for other teams. I’ll obviously take on-field results any day of the week, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t massively enjoy that absolute whirlwind of signings — a whirlwind made even better by the impact the majority of those guys had during actual games. So while some of you may think I’m ranking free agency a little high on this list, the combination of how much fun it was and how much of a factor those nine days are on the future of this franchise, I think this moment is perfectly placed.
Check out a pretty fun 2021 free agency hype video here.