The New England Patriots have left the rest of the NFL's jaws on the floor after a frantic two days to begin the legal tampering period where the club has spent more money than any other time in the franchise's history. Bill Belichick and company were armed with the fourth-highest amount of cap space heading into the unofficial start of free agency and weren't afraid to let cash fly out the window, inking deals with a number of high-profile free agents on both sides of the ball.
Out of the chute, New England agreed to a $50 million deal with former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith and later on Monday came to terms on a contract with ex-Ravens defensive end Matt Judon that'll pay him $56 million. With those contracts, Smith and Judon become the highest-paid skill and defensive players in team history. Those were just the tip of the iceberg, however, as the team also brought in defensive back Jalen Mills, added to the defensive line with Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson, and stocked up at receiver by signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
The cherry on top of New England's own version of March Madness came on Tuesday morning when they doubled down at tight end by adding Hunter Henry on a $37.5 million deal. (Talk about a spending spree!)
In a matter of just two days, the Patriots have filled a number of their key needs as they look to rebound following a 7-9 campaign in 2020 where they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. While there's plenty of optimism surrounding New England after making the splash of all splashes in free agency, there is still an elephant in the room: quarterback.
The Patriots were able to re-sign Cam Newton -- the club's starter in 2020 -- to a one-year deal last week. However, retaining Newton doesn't exactly mesh with the aggressive nature of all of New England's other moves in my mind, making one wonder if there is another shoe to drop in the weeks and months to come. All of these recent additions are inking deals for multiple years excluding Newton, who is set to play on a one-year contract that is largely based on incentives.
If Bill Belichick viewed Newton as the clear QB1 and all thought he needed was a revamped roster around him, the savvy move would've been to sign the quarterback to a multi-year extension now rather than wait. After all, if the former league MVP does return to that form or comes close to it, he's going to cost the club far more than he would right now. By looking at this low-cost, one-year commitment to Newton, it's clear New England is still in the hunt for a quarterback, which is something CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has noted previously as well.
Where will the Patriots look to find that next signal-caller? There's reason to suggest that the clues are hidden in these signings. As we touched on earlier, New England is spending at a rate that we've never seen before. If we're being honest, it feels like a team that is looking to capitalize on having a quarterback on his rookie contract for the next few years by spending money elsewhere that would typically be reserved for that position.
Could that be the road Belichick has decided to head down if the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo truly prove to be unavailable? If so, he now has himself in a favorable position. Because the Patriots addressed a number of key needs in free agency, it gives New England more flexibility with their collection of picks at the 2021 NFL Draft later this spring. Now, the club has freed up the possibility to stockpile the bulk of those selections, attach them to the No. 15 overall pick, and climb even higher up the board in the first round to target the future of franchise under center. In his latest mock draft, CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson has five quarterbacks coming off the board in the first nine picks, which means New England would have to leap into that group to have a chance at a high-end prospect.
A trade up of that proportions is very unlike the Patriots, who have historically elected to trade down to collect more assets. However, after what the club has done over the last 48 hours, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them continue this newfound aggressive persona by adding a young quarterback to cap off this wild offseason.
Keep your head on a swivel, it doesn't feel like the Patriots are quite done yet.