Patriots

Grading all 11 of Patriots' free-agent signings at the bye week

Patriots

The New England Patriots handed out an NFL-record $160 million in guaranteed money to free agents over a nine-day span in March. Through 13 weeks, it looks like they've made some strong investments.

The 9-4 Patriots enter their Week 14 bye as the No. 1 seed in the AFC thanks in large part to the contributions of their newcomers, from wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry on offense and edge rusher Matt Judon and cornerback Jalen Mills on defense.

When you add 11 new faces in free agency, though, not all will be slam dunks. As New England rests up for the home stretch, we're handing out grades for each of the team's free-agent acquisitions based on their play to date.

Cassel: How Mac Jones can get the most out of first NFL bye week

We'll go in alphabetical order:

WR Nelson Agholor: C-

Age: 28

Contract: 2 years, $22 million

2021 stats: 55 targets, 32 receptions, 416 yards, 3 TDs; 3 rushes, 11 yards

Agholor has made a few plays here and there. He caught five balls for 72 yards and a score in the team's season opener and hauled in Kendrick Bourne's 25-yard strike for a TD against the New York Jets.

He's the clear No. 3 wide receiver behind Bourne and Jakobi Meyers, though, which isn't tremendous value for the team's fifth-highest-paid player (by average salary) . Agholor does add a deep threat dimension that secondaries must account for, but there's more to be desired with his play.

 

DE Henry Anderson: Incomplete

Age: 30

Contract: 2 years, $7 million

2021 stats: 3 tackles (4 games)

Anderson came over from the New York Jets as a depth add on the edge and played a total of 35 snaps over the Patriots' first four games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 4. He'll have another opportunity to prove his worth next season.

WR Kendrick Bourne: A-

Age: 26

Contract: 3 years, $15 million

2021 stats: 53 targets, 42 receptions, 623 yards, 5 TDs; 7 rushes, 81 yards; 1 for 1, 25 yards, 1 TD

It took a couple games for Bourne to find his footing, which is the only reason this grade isn't a solid "A." The former San Francisco 49ers wideout is averaging a team-high 14.8 yards per reception with five touchdown catches, second on the team behind Hunter Henry.

Bourne's ability to both stretch the field and catch nearly everything thrown his way (79.2 percent catch rate, third among all NFL receivers) have played a key role in Mac Jones' success as a rookie.

Bourne also brings an infectious energy to the locker room and is on a relatively team-friendly deal. If he keeps up this production, he could be a staple in New England through 2024.

DT Davon Godchaux: B

Age: 27

Contract: 2 years, $15 million

2021 stats: 48 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 1 forced fumble

A four-year starter in Miami before coming to New England, Godchaux has been a solid veteran presence in the trenches. He's started all but one game this season and played 58.1 percent of the team's defensive snaps, tops among all Patriots defensive linemen.

The three-man rotation of Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and rookie standout Christian Barmore on the defensive interior deserves plenty of credit on the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense.

TE Hunter Henry: B+

Age: 27

Contract: 3 years, $37.5 million

2021 stats: 50 targets, 35 receptions, 394 yards, 7 TDs

Meet Jones' favorite red zone option. Henry has been targeted inside the 20-yard line 13 times in 13 games and leads the Patriots with seven TD receptions that all came during a seven-week span.

Henry and Jonnu Smith (more on him later) came at a premium, and New England's grand plans for a two-tight-end offense have yet to come to fruition. Henry's reception totals (2.7 per game) are also down from his Chargers days. But his scoring ability and availability make this signing a win so far.

OLB Matt Judon: A+

Age: 27

Contract: 4 years, $54.5 million

2021 stats: 49 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 25 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery

Turns out that trip to Target was worth it. The Patriots have found an absolute game-changer in Judon, who's playing like a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. After making Pro Bowls in 2019 and 2020 with the Baltimore Ravens, Judon has taken his game to another level in New England as an every-down pass rusher who demands a ton of attention from offenses and can open up lanes for his teammates when he's not sacking the quarterback.

 

Judon's $13.6 million-per-year contract with $32 million guaranteed raised some eyebrows back in March, but he's been worth every penny.

OG Ted Karras: B+

Age: 28

Contract: 1 year, $3 million

2021 stats: 13 games played, 9 starts

Karras replaced Mike Onwenu as the Patriots' starting left guard in Week 5. They've lost just one game since.

After a one-year venture to Miami in 2020 during New England's "rebuilding" year, Karras has reintegrated seamlessly into the offensive line, and the results are showing: The Patriots have rushed for at least 120 total yards in eight of Karras' nine starts. He's a bargain on a $3 million deal.

LB Raekwon McMillan: Incomplete

Age: 26

Contract: 1 year, $1.3 million (with a one-year extension for 2022)

2021 stats: N/A

McMillan suffered a torn ACL on Aug. 7, but the Patriots apparently liked what they saw up to that point. He'll be back in 2022 to try to validate New England's decision.

CB Jalen Mills: B

Age: 27

Contract: 4 years, $24 million

2021 stats: 32 tackles 1 tackle for loss, 1 INT, 5 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery

While J.C. Jackson garners interceptions and headlines, Mills has been a rock at the other outside corner position. He's still waiting on his first pick, but the former Philadelphia Eagle has allowed just 27 receptions on 48 targets for a 56.3 percent completion rate, which is just behind Jackson at 52 percent.

You'd like to see an interception or two from a cornerback making $6 million per year. Still, Mills has done pretty much everything asked of him while allowing Jackson to thrive at the opposite corner. 

TE Jonnu Smith: D+

Age: 26

Contract: 4 years, $50 million

2021 stats: 41 targets, 26 receptions, 271 yards, 1 TD; 6 rushes, 28 yards

Many projected Smith to have a bigger impact than Henry as a Swiss Army Knife offensive weapon for Josh McDaniels. But the Tennessee Titans import simply hasn't caught on through 13 weeks.

After catching nine passes combined in his first two games, Smith has yet to top three receptions in a game and has found the end zone just once. It's possible the shoulder injury that sidelined him in Week 10 is holding him back. But the Patriots are paying Smith like a top-five tight end and getting the production of a backup.

LB Kyle Van Noy: A-

Age: 30

Contract: 2 years, $12 million

2021 stats: 42 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 1 INT, 1 TD, 10 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

Like Karras, Van Noy came back to New England this spring after taking his talents to South Beach in 2020. Smart move.

The eight-year veteran is one of the Patriots' most well-rounded defenders, ranking second on the team in sacks while boasting New England's second-best pass coverage grade behind only safety Adrian Phillips, per Pro Football Focus.

 

Bill Belichick continues to get the best out of Van Noy on the field -- while our Tom E. Curran continues to get the best out of him off the field every Tuesday on Quick Slants.