By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots went bargain shopping to kick off NFL free agency. And much of New England couldn't contain their frustration. But at this point the moves they made shouldn't surprise anyone in the region.
Bill Belichick opted to make a slew of low-level free agent signings last week, in addition to re-signing cornerback Jason McCourty to a two-year deal worth up to $11 million. It's possible that not one of these moves is the game-changing type of signing that makes the difference between getting back to the Super Bowl and falling short. But they still checked some items off the to-do list for the offseason that they had to make at some point.
Here's a quick rundown of what the Patriots accomplished in free agency last week, with hope turning toward bigger moves that could bolster the upper half of the roster for the Super Bowl champions.
-- Upgraded the run defense. They still need to add a body to replace free-agent DT Danny Shelton if he signs elsewhere, but the Patriots did find an upgrade over the departed Malcom Brown. Former Jets DT Mike Pennel was one of the top-rated interior defenders on Pro Football Focus in 2018, and should immediately give a boost to a Pats run defense that was at best inconsistent last season. The Patriots finished tied for 27th in the league with 4.9 yards allowed per rush. The addition of Pennel is a good step toward improving that number.
-- Shored up depth at receiver and tight end. More moves need to be made at wide receiver, and it may have to be a trade if the Patriots want a bona fide No. 2 wideout to pair with Julian Edelman. But the newly signed Bruce Ellington represents the solid backup they didn't have for Edelman last season. Ellington has proven he can be a productive slot receiver when he's been on the field; his health and durability remain the biggest concerns for him. But if he makes the 53-man roster out of camp, he's good Edelman insurance. As for tight end, it's important to add bodies at that position regardless of what Rob Gronkowski ends up doing. The Pats needed to replace Dwayne Allen, at the very least; Matt LaCosse can fill that void with more upside to contribute as a pass-catcher.
-- Legitimate competition at special teams. Losing Brandon Bolden to the Dolphins obviously didn't prevent the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl, but it's no coincidence that their coverage units had a tough go of it in their first year without Bolden in his career. He's back and figures to once again be a cornerstone special teamer, while the addition of Terrence Brooks creates some real competition for the likes of Nate Ebner, Brandon King, and Obi Melifonwu. There's a chance they end up netting money/cap space with these additions. And more importantly, perhaps they will have their you-know-what together with the special teams at the start of the season and don't have to shake things up halfway through in order to turn it around.
Now, the offseason turns toward the bigger items on the to-do list. That should include:
-- Adding a more impactful receiver
-- Signing a swing tackle and/or someone with left tackle experience to compete with Isaiah Wynn
-- Figuring out what to do at kicker and punter with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen both free agents
-- Finding ways to create more cap space
There seemed to be an excessive level of anger over how the Patriots started free agency. If this turns out to be how they finish free agency, the anger may be justified. But considering the tasks that remain on the agenda, it's highly likely they're not done shaping this roster via free agency and the trade market.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].