Grading the Patriots’ Defensive Free Agency Signings

Reports all offseason indicated that the New England Patriots would come out of the gate swinging during the free agency period, and boy did they ever. With the initial free agency wave now passed and the dust beginning to settle on what was a wild first week for the Patriots in free agency, let’s react to and grade the Patriots’ defensive free agency signings up to this point.

Grades for the Patriots’ offensive free agency signing can be found here.

(NOTE: In this article, we’re just grading the newly acquired free agents and not re-signings.)

Davon Godchaux

Contract: 2 years, $15 million with a chance to make $16 million with incentives

Adding a run stopper to the Patriots’ front seven was a must for Belichick and the defense after they struggled so mightly to stop the run last season. It was questioned whether they would sign or draft a run-stopping nose tackle, and very early on in the first day of free agency, everyone got their answer. 

The signing of Davon Godchaux makes a ton of sense as no interior defender had more run stops than Godchaux in 2019, which he would then follow-up with an injury-plagued 2020 season where he would only appear in five games. However, now looking to bounce back from a bicep injury that should be good to go come September 2021, Godchaux provides a reliable presence in the center of the defense.

The big-bodied nose tackle at 6’3″, 311 lbs already understands a great deal of the Patriots’ defense. Not only does he come from a divisional rival in the Miami Dolphins, but also an extremely similar defense under Brian Flores. With a presumptive switch to only three defensive linemen on the field for New England in 2021, he will likely align in the middle, especially on early downs. 

Godchaux’s contract is conducive to what a 26-year-old, high-performing nose tackle should make. Plus, the cap hit in 2021 is relatively low. The way the contract is set up there is a way for the Patriots to explore what they have in Godchaux and potentially reevaluate whether he is worth the increased price tag in 2022. New England did this with a lot of the contracts they signed in free agency.

Grade: B+

Matthew Judon

Contract: 4 years, $54.5 million with a chance to make $56 million with incentives

The signing of Matthew Judon was a big step forward in piecing back together an edge/linebacker core that was decimated by opt-outs and free-agent departures last season. Last season, the Patriots struggled mightily to set the edge in the run game, a vital piece to Belichick’s defensive philosophy. Additionally, the Patriots’ defense lacked a formidable pass rush in 2020.

Luckily, Judon can help fix those issues. Judon can set the edge, as well as rush the passer next to Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Dont’a Hightower. Judon fits the mold perfectly of a New England edge defender and will be seen as a stand-up OLB, providing traits that were dearly missed from the departure of Kyle Van Noy (who also returned).

The Patriots certainly paid the price for Judon, as he got a massive payday. While his cap hit is kind this season at just above $6 million, his cap numbers will skyrocket to $16.5 million over the next two following seasons. The fourth year of his deal sits at a $15 million cap hit. While his contract could easily be manipulated over the next few seasons, anytime a team ties up that kind of cash in a player, it calls for high-level performance. As the salary cap jumps next season, and teams pay their edge-rushers even more, this contract could very well look like a bargain in a year or two. However, for right now, the Judon contract is a big one that he’ll have to live up to. Can he do it? I think so.

Grade: B+

Jalen Mills

Contract: 4 years, $24 million

The Jalen Mills signing was confusing at first glance. It still is to some degree, and the reason being that Mills is such a versatile piece to a defense that it’s almost impossible to truly project where he will spend most of his time. Mills can play both the safety spots and do it well, and he plays corner as well. It should be noted that Mills, has been a much better safety than he has been a corner, where he’s had his struggles.

Initially, this signing had some wondering if this meant anything in regards to Stephon Gilmore and or J.C Jackson. However, it likely means more for someone like Jason McCourty who currently does not look to be returning to the team for this upcoming season. Mills could take on McCourty’s role as Jason played in many spots for the team as well. It’s possible Mills even takes on some of the Duron Harmon role we saw over the years.

Where Mills will spend the majority of his playing time is undetermined, and will likely be decided week-to-week based on the gameplan. However, getting yet another depth piece as both McCourty and Terrance Brooks (signed with Houston Texans) will likely be departing this offseason, along with the retirement of Patrick Chung, is a smart move on Belichick’s part. And with the future of the cornerback position still in question with both Jackson and Gilmore in the contract years, Jonathan Jones not far behind, getting another veteran player with starting cornerback experience is ideal.

Between the contract and the fit, it should be interesting to see if Mills pans out. The good news is that Mills now belongs to a defense that will know how to use his services better than his previous team in the Philadelphia Eagles. But, right now, this is one of the harder players to crystal ball. Especially when so many other players in the Patriots’ secondary wear multiple hats just like him, and there could be redundancies in each other’s roles. 

Grade: C+

Henry Anderson

Contract: 2 years, $7 million

The Henry Anderson signing was anticipated from the moment Anderson was known to be leaving the New York Jets. He’s a player who can likely switch back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end. Anderson fits the Belichick 3-4 defense perfectly.

Anderson is likely to be one of those under-the-radar signings that pan out for the Patriot. Maybe a player who doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition or notoriety for the position he plays, but he will fill an important role and be another big body on the defensive line that will most certainly help out against the run.

Anderson is on a very cheap contract and the hope is that he outplays his cheap deal. He should provide a lot of value to a front seven that struggled last season. Anderson working together with Godchaux against the run will be a formidable group that shouldn’t get punched in the mouth by opposing offensive lines.

Grade: B+

Kyle Van Noy

Contract: 2 years, $12 million with a chance to make $13.2 million with incentives

Leave it to New England’s front office to let a player leave in free agency, get a fourth-round comp pick for his departure, and then get him back the following season by paying him a substantial amount less than he asked for the previous offseason. While Kyle Van Noy’s departure last offseason stung the Patriots’ edge/linebacker core and its pass-rushing capabilities, his return is all that much sweeter, as he’s now even more motivated to contribute.

By New England grabbing all the front seven help they can get, it’s now become a question if their edge/linebacker core is actually a bit crowded. Which, after what took place last season, is a good problem to have in March of the offseason. However, come September, the Patriots will need to address who goes and who stays. New England has a very good mix of young players and veterans at edge/linebacker, but it will be interesting to see how they mix in playing time for young guys like Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and even Winovich.

Van Noy’s role is currently unclear with so many people in the mix for playing time, however, we do know that New England has yet another capable edge/linebacker in the mix. At the very least Van Noy will help with the pass rush and provide an upgrade in the run defense. At this price, for another capable big-name edge/linebacker, this signing receives a very good grade.

Grade: A-

Montravius Adams

Contract: 1 year, $1.095 million

Montravius Adams was a highly-touted high school recruit, who later blossomed into a third-round pick in the NFL. However, his play has been nothing short of disappointing when it came to meeting the high expectations he had entering the NFL.

The 6’4″, 304-pound defensive tackle/end is by no means a lock to make the roster. However, he is just the kind of player who Belichick likes to take a chance on. A former high-touted recruit who maybe didn’t land in the right spots, and can play all over the defensive line. He fits their system, can be a big body helping against the run, and also potentially contribute on special teams.

Whether he will pan out in the way New England is yet to be seen, however, if he can, he can be a versatile contributor on a very small contract. It’s very much an average signing, not good or bad, hence the grade.

Grade: C

Raekwon McMillan

Contract: 1 year, $1.15 million

Another linebacker to join this now stacked group, Raekwon McMillan steps into what will likely be Brandon Copeland’s former role. McMillan, a lot like Elandon Roberts in many ways, is a big, physical, downhill run-stopper of a linebacker. He’s another player added to this front seven that has a specialty in stopping the run game. 

McMillan will operate much like Copeland, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Terez Hall did last season; playing in the inside linebacker role and helping out on run downs. While McMillan will not be a roster lock, even if he does see the field after surviving the summer cut downs, he likely won’t be used on third downs. McMillian can also be a nice special teamer.

Hard to knock the signing, as the $1.15 million contract will come cheap to New England. Whether he makes the team is yet to be determined, however, based on his skill set, he definitely has some tools to provide value in key situations. Plus, he can help accomplish one of the main goals for the Patriots’ defense this offseason, to stop the run. 

Grade: C+

LaRoy Reynolds

Contract: 1 year $1.2 million

LaRoy Reynolds is a special team signing more than anything else. He’s been very productive in that special team’s role and he should immediately help the Patriots special teams unit, which New England values greatly. Plus, he provides some depth as a linebacker. Reynolds likely won’t be a lock to make the final roster, but the move is low risk and gives New England a very good option on special teams if he were to make the final roster.

Grade: B

As the offseason rolls on we’ll grade any more major moves that the Patriots decide to make.

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