NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year begins March 17 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The biggest needs are at tight end, wide receiver and defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, with the quarterback question naturally looming over everything. The Patriots ranked 30th in passing yards last season, averaging 180 per game. They were also 30th in interception percentage, and 27th in total yards and points scored (20.3 per game). With the Patriots bringing back quarterback Cam Newton, it seems to be an admission they need to surround him with better pass-catchers. New England will continue the search for a long-term answer at the position. In addition to the needs on offense, the defense needs more beef up front.
Here’s a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Patriots, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
According to sources, the one-year deal is worth up to $13.6 million, with about $6 million tied to incentives.
What it means: The Patriots evaluated other free-agent options, weren’t enamored with their choices, and determined that trying to build on their experience with Newton from 2020 was the best approach. The modest contract also provides flexibility should an unexpected QB opportunity present itself as more dominoes fall across the NFL, so the Patriots aren’t necessarily done adding at the position this offseason.
What’s the risk: They discover that even with better pass-catching options around him, Newton can’t elevate a passing offense that was hard to watch at times in 2020. Other quarterback options, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (if released), possibly could have helped.
The veteran has agreed to a three-year, $6 million deal, according to a source.
What it means: Bethel led the Patriots with 14 special-teams tackles (13 solo) last season, playing a key role in helping earn a No. 1 overall ranking in Rick Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings that coach Bill Belichick sometimes references as an accurate measure of success. Bethel, 30, teams with Matthew Slater to form arguably the NFL’s top 1-2 combination covering punts, and the contract keeps him around if Slater, 35, mulls retirement.
What’s the risk: Age. Bethel is healthy and played 16 games last season, so there’s nothing on the horizon that suggests trouble health-wise. But investing in a 30-year-old for a core special teams role closes one more door for a younger player to emerge.