When the Patriots last took the field against the Bills in Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season, they brought Cam Newton onto the field as their starting quarterback. Sony Michel was his best running back, while Damiere Byrd and Devin Asiasi started at receiver and tight end, respectively.
Safe to say that much has changed since then.
In fact, when you look at the starting roster the Patriots lined up against the Bills last season, it’s almost completely different. Only six of the 22 starters combined on offense and defense are projected to start for the Patriots in Week 13 against the Bills.
What #Patriots different rate than #Bills This year: Of the 22 starters at their December 2020 meeting, only six of them are starters on the Patriots in 2021. Completely different team / momentum for the Patriots heading to MNF.
– Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) December 1, 2021
Of course, some of those changes are due to injury. That said, it still speaks to the fact that Bill Belichick and the Patriots were serious about rebuilding themselves during the 2021 offseason.
The Patriots spent more resources than any other team in 2021 in an effort to improve their team. They spent $ 163 million in guaranteed money last offseason, breaking the all-time NFL record previously held by the Dolphins, who spent $ 147.2 million a year earlier.
After that, the Patriots spent a first-round pick on a quarterback and landed several other strong prospects to give them current starters, depth and future potential.
Did the ending work out? The Patriots have a renewed team and appear poised to be a playoff contender soon. How they did it? Here’s a look at how the Patriots brought about such a quick turnaround after Tom Brady’s departure.
2022 NFL MOCK DRAFT: Defense Dominates First Round
Patriots Free Agent Tokens: Weapons
- WR Nelson Agholor
- WR Kendrick Bourne
- TE Hunter Henry
- TE Jonnu Smith
The Patriots spent most of their money improving their receiving corps, which was, frankly, terrible during the 2020 NFL season. Jakobi Meyers proved to be a solid target, but the rest of the team’s pass receivers were mediocre at best.
As such, Belichick made sure they sought out receiver and tight end talent early on and on a regular basis. He placed a particular emphasis on tight ends after the team’s tight ends caught just 18 passes in total in 2020. The Patriots signed both Henry and Smith, who were arguably the top two tight ends in the free agent class. They each make $ 12.5 million a year, making them the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league.
The additions of Henry and Smith replenished the Patriots’ depth at position and moved Devin Asiasi from the top of the depth chart to the much more comfortable No. 3 spot. The presence of Henry and Smith has allowed the Patriots to run two more tight ends sets, of which Josh McDaniels has historically been good call-outs. That’s something they couldn’t do last year due to the talent shortage at the job.
To address catcher issues, the Patriots added some speed on Agholor and a solid, versatile receiver on Bourne. They’ve emerged as starters for the Patriots, and while the team doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver, they make the committee’s approach work.
Agholor and Bourne have helped open up more opportunities for Meyers and pushed N’Keal Harry into a backup job. That works well for the former first-round pick, as he hasn’t shown he can break away at the next level. Both Agholor and Bourne have shown they can.
These four transfers added depth and have given the Patriots a wide variety of weapons to aim for. As a result, his offense has performed much more efficiently than it did last season.
RIVERA: Explanation of why the Panthers fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady
Patriots free agent sheets: the defense
- EDGE Matthew Judon
- DT Of which Godchaux
- DB Jalen Mills
The Patriots were able to pick a few defensive players in free agency who have emerged as key starters for the club. None have had a bigger impact than Matthew Judon.
Judon has been one of the most impressive players in the NFL this season. He had 11.5 sacks in his first 12 games with the Patriots and was tied for second in the NFL with 38 total pressures entering Week 13. He has transformed the Patriots’ passing career, which lacked a high-passing runner. level since the team changed. Chandler Jones to the Cardinals in 2016.
Judon’s presence has taken pressure off the team’s high school. Rival quarterbacks have had less time to throw the ball, while offensive lines have had to focus on keeping Judon in mind. He’s also been a key leader for the Patriots, making it worth the four-year, $ 54.5 million contract he signed during the offseason.
The Godchaux and Mills impacts are a bit more subtle, but they have been significant. Godchaux has served as the Patriots’ best nose tackle this season. His defense against the run has improved from 26th in 2020 to 20th in 2021, and Godchaux has helped the team improve in that area.
Meanwhile, Mills has played the sixth-most defensive plays of any Patriot this year. He has used his versatility as a weapon, having recorded plays on the outside, in the groove, in the area and on the defensive line this year. That said, his presence as an outside corner has been particularly important, as he made 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore’s game easier to digest.
NFL PLAYOFF IMAGE: Ranking updates, Week 13 playoff image
Patriots’ offseason moves: comebacks
- LB Kyle Van Noy
- OT Trent Brown
- C Ted Karras
- QB Brian Hoyer
The Patriots are, perhaps, better than any NFL team at bringing players back into the fold after a time out and turning them back into quality contributors. The 2021 season has been no exception.
New England’s biggest buyback was Kyle Van Noy. After three and a half years with the Patriots, Van Noy signed a four-year contract with the Dolphins in 2020 only to be released a year after the deal. The Patriots struggled to replace Van Noy’s production as linebacker throughout the season and since his return, their position group has fared better.
So far, Van Noy has recorded 41 tackles, four sacks and one interception as a game point guard for the Patriots. New England linebackers had major coverage problems last season, so Van Noy’s return was welcome. He’s ranked as one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, according to PFF, and has allowed a passer rating of just 68.8 this season.
Bringing back Brown and Karras has also proven to be important. Karras emerged as a key left guard starter when Brown lost time earlier in the season. That allowed Michael Onwenu to play tackle and kept the Patriots’ strong offensive line intact.
Meanwhile, Brown has played very well when healthy. He’s had some trouble with a reluctant calf, but when they’re on the field, the Patriots, and particularly Mac Jones, have done well.
|Mac Jones||% Of completion||Passing yards||TD||INT|
|With Trent Brown||82.3||249||1.8||0.3|
|Without Trent Brown||67.1||231.8||1.1||0.9|
Bringing back those four players was clearly the right move for the Patriots. Even re-signing veteran Brian Hoyer for his fourth season with the team was smart, as he became the team’s best backup once Cam Newton was released.
Also, it’s worth noting that the Patriots got Dont’a Hightower back after he opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID concerns. Pairing him with Van Noy and midseason acquisition Jamie Collins has completely reinvigorated the Patriots’ linebacker space after a low year in 2020.
MORE: Where Bill Belichick Is Among The NFL’s Oldest Coaches
Patriots 2021 NFL Draft Picks: Three Impact Players
- QB Mac Jones
- DT Christian Barmore
- RB Rhamondre Stevenson
The Patriots spent a lot of money in free agency to help their team, but it could be argued that the 2021 NFL Draft proved even more important for New England. Why? Because they may have landed a franchise quarterback in Mac Jones.
Jones has been the best rookie quarterback in the NFL so far in 2021. He beat Newton to win the starting job and led the Patriots to an 8-4 record in the first three quarters of the 2021 season.
So far, Jones has posted good numbers, including a 70.3 percent completion rate that ranks third in the NFL. He could still handle making a few more shots down the field (he’s averaging 7.5 passing yards per attempt slightly below average), but he’s kept the Patriots on time and has shown great decision-making skills. Basically, he’s doing what Tom Brady was asked to do in his first season as a starter.
Jones wasn’t the only quality draft pick the Patriots landed. Second-round pick Christian Barmore has emerged as a quality defensive tackle. PFF has ranked him the 35th best inside pass rider in the league out of 124 qualified players. He also has two pass defenses while playing in a rotating role.
Fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson is the other rookie to have carved out a notable role with the Patriots. He was a star in the preseason, but he started the season on the inactive list, a practice Belichick often does with rookie running backs.
However, after James White suffered a season-ending injury, Stevenson emerged as a quality backup for Damien Harris and has performed well. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has handled 88 touches in 12 weeks of action. He’s on track to put on more than 100 touches this season. Only one rookie running back for the Patriots has eclipsed that mark in the last decade. That was Sony Michel in 2018 (216 touches).
Belichick’s moves helped add some improvements to the Patriots roster and replenish some of the depth the team had lost due to bad drafts and free-agent losses in previous seasons. Now, they are re-emerging as one of the strongest teams in the AFC and are preparing for another possible title race; he and the Patriots headquarters deserve credit for the work they have done in executing this rapid rebuilding.