The Patriots are in a tough spot, but it’s not just the team that is struggling. Bill Belichick has been dealing with this trend for years, and he can’t get out of it.
Bill Belichick is already dealing with a troubling trend that no amount of money can fix. The Patriots coach has been forced to change his game plan because the team’s defense hasn’t been able to stop the run.
Bill Belichick has several obvious issues to address heading into the summer. He had more than enough salary cap room to address key roster gaps and put the club up for a fast turnaround, which was fortunate for the New England Patriots. During the early days of free agency, we discovered that Belichick had no qualms about signing big-name players to expensive contracts.
Will they be worthwhile investments? Or will Robert Kraft come to regret allowing his veteran head coach to spend a record amount of guaranteed money on free agents?
Only time will tell whether Belichick made the right decision, but he’s already dealing with a worrisome trend that no amount of money will be able to reverse. And if the Patriots are serious about winning the Lombardi Trophy, they can’t afford for the situation to continue to deteriorate.
The Patriots have spent a lot of money to improve their depleted tight end corps.
Since selling Gronk, the Patriots have made the following tight end moves: • Drafted Devin Asiasi (91st overall) • Drafted Dalton Keene (101st overall) • Signed Jonnu Smith • Signed Hunter Henry pic.twitter.com/xwhl4sm1K5 pic.twitter.com/xwhl4sm1K5
March 16, 2021 — NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS)
For nearly a decade, Belichick benefited from having perhaps the best tight end of all time as the focal point of his offense. However, it became clear following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement that the Patriots had not done a good job preparing for life beyond Gronk.
Belichick took a bold approach to restocking the tight end room after getting almost nothing out of the position in 2019. Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene were selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft by New England.
Neither player, though, made an impression in his debut season in Foxborough.
Belichick totally revamped the tight end depth chart after Asiasi and Keene combined for five receptions for 55 yards and one score last season. Despite a history of passing on big-name free agents, he was able to get the top two players at the position. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry both received multi-year deals for an average of $12.5 million each year.
With the amount of draft capital spent on Asiasi and Keene (the Patriots moved up for both) and the $87.5 million in total agreements for Smith and Henry, Belichick’s detractors can’t claim he went cheap at tight end.
Of course, how well the second-year professionals and their two high-paid colleagues perform on the field will determine if their purchase price was justified.
Bill Belichick is facing a worrisome trend that no amount of money will be able to reverse.
Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, talks to the media before a practice. | John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Given all he’s done over the past two offseasons, Belichick should be confident in his tight end corps. However, he’s already dealing with a worrisome pattern that should raise some doubts about New England’s offensive potential this season.
Unfortunately for Belichick, no amount of money will be able to solve the Patriots’ current problems.
Injuries have resurfaced as a concern for a position group that wants to make a big impact in 2021. With Keene being placed on injured reserve on Aug. 7 due to a knee issue, New England has already lost one tight end for the season.
In the meanwhile, both of Belichick’s high-priced free-agent signings have struggled since joining the club. Henry was injured in the spring and suffered a shoulder ailment in training camp, which has forced him to lose important practice time.
Smith, who inked a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots, injured his ankle on Sunday. As a consequence, the gifted tight end was held out of joint workouts with the Philadelphia Eagles. To make things worse, backups Matt LaCosse and Tony Fumagalli were injured and were unable to participate in Tuesday’s practice against the Eagles.
Given Smith’s and Henry’s durability issues (the latter has never played all 16 games in a season), the fact that they’re already injured should raise worries about what’s to come. The Patriots will struggle to move the ball and score points if they can’t stay healthy and contribute. And you can guarantee Belichick will be chastised for his job as a general manager if Smith and Henry fail to fulfill their contracts due to injury.
If Belichick wants to compete for a Super Bowl championship, he needs his big-money free players to remain healthy.
In retrospect, how often has the side that ‘won’ FA on paper due to numbers and money really won FA?
New England has a lot of credit built up, but this is a risky approach that seldom pays off.
March 16, 2021 — Sam Monson (@PFF Sam)
The Patriots finished 7-9 in 2020, owing in large part to Belichick’s failure to put the club up for success. Early-round selections like N’Keal Harry, Sony Michel, and Joejuan Williams failed to live up to their draft pedigrees, and New England lacked starting-caliber players at crucial spots.
However, following an expensive spring buying binge, Belichick now has a squad that is capable of mounting a Super Bowl run. But he’ll need his free-agent haul to work out in order for that to happen.
Smith and Henry must avoid further setbacks on offense in order to cause havoc in the middle of the field. Nelson Agholor ($22 million over two years) and Kendrick Bourne ($15 million over three years) must regularly get open and catch the ball from whomever starts at quarterback.
Belichick’s defense should be back in the top five. He added outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, as well as defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson, to the front seven. Jalen Mills, a versatile defensive back, was also added to the secondary, giving them a boost.
Of course, there’s a little chance that all of those guys will work out.
For the sake of Bill Belichick, let’s hope the Patriots are the anomaly.
But haven’t they shown that over the past two decades?
Pro Football Reference provided all statistics. Spotrac provided all contract information.
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