After an uncharacteristic down year in 2020, the New England Patriots have bounced back in a big way through free agency.
Since the free agency period opened up last Wednesday, Bill Belichick has significantly bolstered his squad on both sides of the ball. The Patriots’ lackluster receiving corps got a massive boost, adding the open market’s top two tight ends — Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith — as well as two solid wide receiver options in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
Pass-rusher Matthew Judon and defensive back Jalen Mills will also strengthen a New England defense that’s already returning some valuable 2020 opt-outs. Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy will also make his return to the franchise after a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins.
According to two ESPN NFL analysts, these signings were enough to crown the Patriots as the most-improved team heading into 2021
“I’ll choose the obvious answer and let the rest of our crew scramble for deeper insight,” national NFL writer Kevin Seifert wrote. “Their offense is now much more explosive, thanks to wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and their defense will get more pop up front from Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy. The departure of guard Joe Thuney is worrisome, but overall, the Patriots have unquestionably upgraded a half-dozen starting positions.”
“There’s certainly reason to be skeptical of the value some of the moves bring — the Agholor signing stands out — but there’s no question that an influx of talent just flowed into Foxborough, Massachusetts, and New England will be better off for it in the short term,” sports analytics writer Seth Walder wrote.
While the Patriots got the nod from two ESPN writers, two others went in different directions.
NFL analyst Matt Bowen took the Washington Football Team as his most-improved squad. With the additions of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and up-and-coming receiver Curtis Samuel, Ron Rivera’s 2020 playoff team now has a much-improved offense to go along with an already-solid defense.
On the flip side, NFL analyst Mike Clay noted the Cleveland Browns improvement on the defensive side of the ball. With the additions of star safety John Johnson III and cornerback Jalen Hill, the Browns’ secondary sees a significant uptick. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson and defensive end Takkarist McKinley will also strengthen the D-line — bridging the gap between the elite Cleveland offense.
Who’s your most-improved NFL squad heading into 2021?