The plan was to obtain a ticket to the dance.
The first stage of that offseason undertaking was identifying free agent pieces that would fit the Patriots puzzle. Veterans with proven track records who could come in, show leadership, and get results.
The Patriots’ unprecedented spring shopping spree — $160 million in guarantees — was ultimately a success, as Bill Belichick’s team returned to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
The stinging playoff loss to the Bills is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but it’s important to remember there also were plenty of highs during this roller coaster season. The ride included a 2-4 start and a seven-game winning streak with a brief stint in the AFC’s catbird seat. (Remember all the talk about a Belichick vs. Tom Brady Super Bowl?)
There were more hits than misses when it comes to the 11 new faces brought in when free agency kicked off and the checkbook came out.
WR Nelson Agholor
Contract: Two years, $22 million
2021 statistics: 16 games, 38 catches, 491 yards, 3 touchdowns
Agholor was the team’s top deep threat and though his 2.4 catches per game were hardly eye-popping, there are other factors to consider. He ran with the first-team players all through training camp when Cam Newton was handling those snaps, so his connection with Mac Jones more or less started during the early portion of the season. His speed and quickness demanded respect from defenders and opened space in the middle of the field for other targets.
Agholor will enter his eighth season in 2022 and is poised to build on his first campaign and his rapport with Jones.
WR Kendrick Bourne
Contract: Three years, $15 million
2021 statistics: 18 games, 62 catches, 877 yards, 7 TDs
The fifth-year veteran was one of the biggest bargains of the leaguewide free agent class. He was durable, versatile — he rushed for 125 yards and threw a touchdown pass — and his positive energy was infectious.
Bourne was unabashed about how much his game grew under Belichick’s tutelage and he is likely to become an even bigger part of Josh McDaniels’s offense over the next two seasons.
TE Hunter Henry
Contract: Three years, $37.5 million
2021 statistics: 18 games, 51 catches, 633 yards, 9 TDs
Henry quickly developed into Jones’s go-to guy, particularly in the red zone. He has excellent size and strength and the softest mitts this side of a broken-in Rawlings. He can play in-line or as a move and all signs point to him being the next in a long line of great Patriots tight ends.
TE Jonnu Smith
Contract: Four years, $50 million
2021 statistics: 17 games, 28 catches, 294 yards, 1 TD
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: More production was expected from Smith, who was used as a Swiss Army knife with the Titans but never found his footing in this offense. When the club signed Jones and Henry, many projected a heavy dose of two-tight end sets, but the Patriots employed that look on fewer than 20 percent of offensive snaps.
Smith’s best game was the first Bills outing, when he played a huge blocking role as the Patriots ran for 222 yards. Look for his role to be expanded in Year 2.
G/C Ted Karras
Contract: One year, $3 million
2021 statistics: 18 games
Karras settled in and started the last dozen games at left guard on a team that averaged 4.4 yards per rush. He is smart and versatile — he can play anywhere on the interior — and has expressed a desire to return.
OLB Matthew Judon
Contract: Four years, $54.5 million
2021 statistics: 18 games, 61 tackles, 12. 5 sacks, 26 quarterback hits
Judon was instantly embraced by teammates and the fan base for his fiery and disruptive play. The Patriots’ most effective pass rusher since Chandler Jones, Judon was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year during the club’s seven-game winning streak.
But he suffered a friendly-fire rib injury in a collision with Dont’a Hightower in the Week 13 Bills game, and though he declared just before the playoffs he was fine, it’s fair to wonder if that rib ailment, which can notoriously linger for weeks to months, affected the Pro Bowler down the stretch.
LB Kyle Van Noy
Contract: Two years, $12 million
2021 statistics: 17 games, 68 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles
Van Noy seamlessly slipped back into the Patriots defense after a one-year hiatus in Miami. His familiarity and instincts allowed the coaches to play him in multiple roles in the front seven — he can hunt backs, pass rush, and drop into coverage. He has a penchant for big plays, a nose for the ball, and could be in line for an even bigger leadership role depending on what happens with impending free agents Hightower and Devin McCourty.
NT Davon Godchaux
Contract: Two years, $15 million
2021 statistics: 18 games, 66 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Godchaux flashed excellent technique and consistency playing multiple spots along the defensive line. He has the strength to anchor against the run and the athleticism to move laterally to fill gaps. After playing four seasons in Miami, Godchaux thrived in the cold climes.
CB Jalen Mills
Contract: Four years, $24 million
2021 statistics: 16 games, 47 tackles, 7 passes defensed
Mills was expected to help fill the void left by Patrick Chung’s retirement, but instead he filled the void left by the absence and subsequent trade of Stephon Gilmore. He was very consistent and very physical. An exceptionally sure tackler, Mills was effective at jamming receivers and knocking them off their routes.
DL Henry Anderson
Contract: Two years, $7 million
2021 statistics: 3 games, 3 tackles
A torn pectoral muscle ended Anderson’s season early. His ability to be a disruptive edge setter was missed and will be welcomed back in 2022.
LB Raekwon McMillan
Contract: One year, $1.3 million
2021 statistics: Did not play
McMillan was enjoying a fine training camp — he was always around the ball — when he suffered an ACL tear in August, ending a promising start. His camp was so encouraging — Belichick said he was “impressed by his intelligence and work ethic” — that the club signed him to another one-year deal in September.