Will Patriots’ 2021 free agents make Year 2 jump? Ex-NFL GM has interesting take

The New England Patriots spent a ton of money in free agency last year to address several different roster weaknesses.

Some of these players ended up playing meaningful roles in the Patriots’ turnaround in 2021 (Kendrick Bourne, Matthew Judon), while others failed to live up to expectations (Jonnu Smith).

The Patriots weren’t loaded with salary cap space this offseason, so there was no huge spending spree on premium talent. Instead, the Patriots will have to search the free agent market for bargains and hit a home run or two in the upcoming draft.

There’s another way the Patriots can improve next season without making substantial roster additions. Former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman joined our Tom Curran on the Patriots Talk Podcast to discuss this topic and more.

“Last year was the first that I can remember that New England was very aggressive in free agency,” Spielman said. “I think that first day of free agency they signed a wide receiver, a pass rusher, I think a total of 12 or 13 players to come in post-Tom Brady. Then they went ahead and drafted their future quarterback in Mac Jones.

“They weren’t as aggressive this year because of all the contracts from last year. The other thing to also take into account is most of these guys did contribute to New England last year, but usually, just like rookies, some of these UFAs really hit their stride in their second year. Especially after (one year in) the New England way, the way coach Bill Belichick runs it, you have to adapt because it’s been so successful. A lot of those guys coming in had never experienced that before, so they’re adjusting the first year there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a lot of these guys they signed last year excel going into their second year, along with the rookie quarterback. “

Patriots Talk Podcast: Former NFL GM Rick Spielman gives his take on the Patriots’ plan | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

Which of these players are candidates to bounce back and show meaningful improvement? One of the tight ends will be in the spotlight.

“I think Jonnu Smith is kind of the lynchpin to their 2022 season,” Curran said. “He’s a player who they didn’t have a lot of cap space and base salary invested in last season, now it’s big and the next year after it’s big. He’s a Swiss Army knife you hope to do some stuff around. He didn ‘ t contribute much. So, boom, it’s him. “

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Smith tallied just 28 receptions for 294 yards and one touchdown in 16 games last season. These numbers represented a sharp decline from his 2020 output when he scored eight touchdowns in 16 games for the Tennessee Titans.

Smith, among all the players the Patriots signed in free agency last year, definitely has the most room for improvement. A real bounce-back from him would do wonders for New England’s offense in 2022.

Also in this episode: Curran and Spielman talk about if draft picks less valued and salary cap less feared, Mac Jones’ future, the Browns acquiring Deshaun Watson and much more.

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