Have the Patriots made any monster moves that turned the NFL world upside down? No.
Have they done anything that will get them demonstrably closer to a Super Bowl? Not really.
Did they get better through free agency? Yes.
Let me explain.
The Patriots predictably turned down their most at the top players on the market that could’ve filled positions of need (e.g., Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, Jessie Bates), letting them get paid big money by other teams as usual.
Would it have been nice to see them lock up one of the premier tackles on the market to show with their wallets that they value protecting Mac Jones? Sure. It would’ve given us something to talk about at least, though it's also possible (perhaps even most likely) they wouldn't have been worth the money in the end.
But the team did sign a couple of solid tackles (Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff) that, given health, can capably step in and keep Jones alive (in theory). What’s more: the Patriots all but told everyone with that maneuver that offensive tackle is their top priority in the upcoming draft. Anderson, Reiff and Trent Brown should be enough veteran depth to hold things down until the kid is ready to play, and you didn’t have any of that promise — from the solid vets to the potential young tackle — last year.
Next, the Patriots arguably upgraded at the receiver position by swapping out Jakobi Meyers for JuJu Smith-Schuster on a slightly friendlier deal.
Meyers has been more consistently on the upward trajectory and is as reliable as they come, but Smith-Schuster brings much more explosiveness after the catch in an offense that needs to create extra yards however it can. His 5.6 yards after the catch average was ninth in the league last year.
Now, that doesn’t make the Patriots’ receiver group that much better than it was on paper last year. New England absolutely still must draft a receiver reasonably early to develop behind these veterans and prepare for when DeVante Parker’s and Kendrick Bourne’s contracts are up next year. But the net effect overall is positive.
Then, there’s the addition-by-subtraction of getting rid of Jake Bailey’s (release) and Jonnu Smith’s rough contracts and putting those resources toward re-signing guys like Jabrill Peppers and Jonathan Jones, which ease the pain of Devin McCourty’s departure via retirement.
All in all, the Patriots are a better team than they were when they started free agency this week and still have some money they could use to put toward negotiating extensions for guys like Kyle Dugger if they want to.
But when you compare it to what other teams have done or are planning to do in the AFC East — looking at the Jets/Aaron Rodgers here — it doesn’t seem like nearly enough.
Sure, winning the off-season isn’t everything, and it doesn’t guarantee massive improvement (see: 2022 AFC West minus the Chiefs). It’s just hard to feel like much has happened to change the pecking order of the division in a positive way for the Patriots. Spending money and making big trades makes you feel like your team is doing something big, and the Patriots, well, aren't.
The heavy lifting of getting impact players must come in the draft this year, which is overall the right approach. New England just can’t afford to miss because this free-agency class hasn’t afforded them much margin for error.