Patriots’ incredible spending almost matches price to buy team in 1994

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Spending in context: When Robert Kraft purchased the Patriots in 1994, he paid $172 million, the highest price for a professional football team at the time.

This came to mind when looking for the best way to highlight how unprecedented the Patriots’ current offseason spending spree has been. When it comes to guaranteed money, the Patriots have nearly matched the total that Kraft bought the team for 27 years ago.

Accounting for 16 of the Patriots’ 19 signings and re-signings, they have guaranteed about $162.5 million. This doesn’t include center Ted Karras, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, defensive tackle Montravius Adams and trade acquisition Trent Brown, as the details of their contracts are not yet known. That smashes the prior NFL record of $147.2 million, set by the 2020 Dolphins. The 2019 Jets, with $131.4 million spent, had been No. 2 prior to the Patriots’ binge.

The approach has been strategic in nature, according to those involved, and viewed as necessary to infuse a roster that had too many holes. The strategy behind it is summed up this way:

  • An unprecedented offseason in which the salary cap dropped for the first time in a decade.

  • A chance to sign in-their-prime players who might not have been available if the cap didn’t shrink.

  • The competition to sign those players is limited because more teams were tight to the cap.

  • The Patriots have an abundance of cap space to maneuver.

  • And the club projects the cap to rise in the coming years with the new media deals.

It sounds good in theory, but now comes the hard part.

The Patriots are the sixth team to spend more than $100 million guaranteed during a free-agency period, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and none of the prior five have won a playoff game in that season. Only two made the postseason at all.

But they did show improvement. When accounting for the most recent top-spending teams in free agency, they increased their win total by an average of more than five wins in the next season. That would put the Patriots at 12-5 at worst in 2021 (assuming a 17-game season).

Yet problems cropped up the next year. Recent history shows those teams couldn’t sustain the second season after spending big, and they then averaged a drop of 5.5 wins.

So the Patriots are looking to break from recent history — in more ways than one.

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Stephen A. Smith reacts to the Patriots’ agreement with tight end Hunter Henry among a multitude of other free-agency moves.

2. Jonnu’s return: When tight end Jonnu Smith arrives at Gillette Stadium after officially signing with the Patriots, the inside of the team’s offices won’t be foreign territory to him. Smith had taken a pre-draft visit to Foxborough in 2017, when he was a prospect coming out of Florida International University. The visit likely provided added comfort for coach Bill Belichick in making such an aggressive push for Smith. The 2017 draft was mostly regrettable for Belichick, who traded back multiple times in the third round before landing defensive end Derek Rivers (83rd) and offensive tackle Tony Garcia (85th). Meanwhile, Smith went late in the third round, 100th overall to the Tennessee Titans — a reminder of the draft’s unpredictability.

3. Mills fits Chung role: Safety Patrick Chung’s retirement announcement helps explain, in part, the Patriots’ pursuit of free-agent Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills (four years, $24 million, $9 million guaranteed). One coach who worked closely with Mills described him this way: “Super competitive. Safety/corner experience. Lacks top-end speed at corner, but feisty and competitive — more of an inside player.” Sounds a lot like Chung’s profile in the Patriots’ defense.

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Adam Schefter and Louis Riddick react to the Patriots adding former Eagles DB Jalen Mills.

4. Judon and “Humble Pie”: When the Patriots paid big for former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas in 2007 free agency, Thomas came to New England and learned all about the “humble pie” that Belichick serves on a daily basis. It was a lot different from the culture he had been used to in Baltimore. Now that the Patriots have paid big for Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon in free agency, it will be interesting to see how Judon likes the same pie, considering his initial response to veteran reporter Josina Anderson about coming to New England.

5. KVN, TBC connection: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s return to the Patriots for a second stint is a reminder of the importance of never burning a bridge. It also reminds me, in part, of something that unfolded more than a decade earlier with Tully Banta-Cain, who played the same position. The Patriots liked Banta-Cain (2003-06), but wished him well after he parlayed a 5.5-sack season into a three-year, $12.2 million deal from the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. That was just too rich for New England, similar to Van Noy’s big-money deal with Miami in 2020. But when things didn’t work out for Banta-Cain in San Francisco after two years, they brought him back in 2009 and he had a career-high 10-sack season. If the ultra-motivated Van Noy does something similar this season, it would only strengthen the comparison.

6. Godchaux’s “toughness”: Dolphins free-agent defensive tackle Davon Godchaux didn’t show up on many lists as a top target for NFL teams, but the Patriots made him a Day 1 priority with a two-year deal worth $15 million, with $9 million guaranteed. They are banking on him returning to form after playing five games last season because of a torn biceps. One coach familiar with Godchaux relayed that “toughness is his top attribute” and he has “good power and strong hands.” The coach liked the signing because Godchaux — projected as a Day 1 starter as a first- and second-down option — is in his prime at 26 years old.

7. Draft nugget: North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who Patriots national scout Matt Groh watched closely at his pro day last week, will be 20 years old when he is drafted. That positions him to become the first player drafted into the NFL who was born in 2000.

8. Kraft’s “instrumental” role: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell touted the “tremendous job” and “instrumental” work of Patriots owner Robert Kraft in announcing landmark media agreements on Friday that he said positions the NFL and its players with “tremendous stability and opportunities for incredible growth over the next decade.” Kraft is the longtime chairman of the league’s media committee and said the process was one of the most enjoyable experiences in his professional career.

9. Adding a fifth: When the NFL finalized the full draft order on Friday, it came with a pleasant surprise for the Patriots when they were awarded an additional compensatory pick (fifth round, No. 177). This was a result of a correction by the Management Council. So after the Patriots traded Marcus Cannon, fifth- and sixth-round picks to the Texans for fourth- and sixth-round picks, this is the team’s current allotment of selections:

  • First (No. 15)

  • Second (No. 46)

  • Third (No. 96)

  • Fourth (No. 120)

  • Fourth (No. 122)

  • Fourth (No. 139)

  • Fifth (No. 177)

  • Sixth (No. 188)

  • Sixth (No. 197)

  • Seventh (No. 242)

10. Did You Know: Since Chung’s rookie season in 2009, he played 6,928 defensive snaps in the regular season for the Patriots. The only New England player with more over that span is Devin McCourty (10,462).

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