The day Pats 'took care of family business'

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Bill Burt, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
·4 min read
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Mar. 16—It was a scene out of the epic film, "The Godfather."

Michael Corleone, who had just become Godfather an hour earlier, shaking down his brother-in-law for information.

Michael, played by Al Pacino, explained to his soon-to-be-deceased family member, "Today I take care of all family business."

Catching everyone by surprise, bodies, one at a time, were soon strewn everywhere.

That was Monday in the NFL, the opening day of free agency 2021.

And Bill Belichick was The Godfather. And those bodies were coming to Foxborough.

After a season on the brink, in which they've been mocked, stomped on and written off as finished, the Patriots and Belichick, shockingly went off when the gun went off at noon.

Here's how the 24-hour stretch went for the Patriots:

12:59 p.m.: Sign Titans TE Jonnu Smith, 4 years, $50 million.

1:14 p.m.: Sign Dolphins NT, Davon Godchaux, 2 years, $16 million.

2:59 p.m.: Sign Ravens LB Matt Judon, 4 years, $56 million.

3:04 p.m.: Sign Eagles DB Jalen Mills, 4 years, $24 million.

4:40 p.m.: Re-sign DL Deatrich Wise, 4 years, $22 million.

5:06 p.m.: Sign 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne, 3 years, $15 million.

6:26 p.m.: Sign Raiders WR Nelson Agholor, 2 years, $26 million.

6:41 p.m.: Re-sign DL Carl Davis, 1 year, (est.) $1.05 million.

8:10 p.m.: Sign Jets DT Henry Anderson, 2 years, $7 million.

Then the hammer this morning:

10:30 a.m.: Sign Chargers TE Hunter Henry, 3 years, $37.5 million.

Wow.

We all understood that the Patriots and Belichick had cap space available, upwards of $70 million, but what happened yesterday was unique.

Mind you, this doesn't include the reacquiring of Trent Brown (1 year, $11 million) in a trade for a fifth round pick to the Raiders last week, filling a tackle spot on the offensive line.

If those outside are wondering what the big fuss is about these dudes, most of whom are relative unknowns, as in second or third tier players, they have to understand.

Belichick filling a Brinks Truck and unloading to many free agents has never happened like this. Never.

Sure, he has, a few times, gone after a name guy, exciting the masses, most recently cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but it is few and far between.

In 2001, the Patriots added over 20 new free agents, including the greatest free agent acquisition of them all, Mike Vrabel. But Belichick's cash outlay in upfront bonuses was under $3 million ... combined.

What is striking about this group, at least the key members who earned semi-substantial guarantees — Smith, Godchaux, Judon, Mills, Wise, Bourne and Henry — is their average age is 26. All just completed their rookie contracts, which means, like Vrabel in 2001, they are entering the prime of their careers.

This is classic Belichick in terms of roster building. Paying two or three players 50 percent of the salary cap is not how winning is sustained. Spread out the wealth, adding depth, is easier with good players pulling in $8 million rather than $16 million.

What does all of this tell us?

A few things.

Belichick is indeed in this for the long haul. And that he is going back to his roots as a coach ... defense, line of scrimmage control, special teams, running the football and clutch quarterback play.

That was the heart of the first Patriots dynasty; beating teams in so many ways with so many people.

There are still "bodies to be strewn." Center David Andrews, now a free agent, would be a nice "get," too. And then there is a that quarterback of the future in April.

But for now, this will do. While it will take a year or two to understand the full extent of the last day and Belichick's purchases, it's OK to be a Patriots fan and be excited.

Belichick, to his credit, was prepared for this day. He had a plan and executed it. The salary cap drop, hindering teams from bringing back some of their own guys, probably opened the door to at least two or three of these players being available.

After a year amiss, Belichick had a plan over a 24-hour stretch, guaranteeing, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, over $137.5 million, second in NFL history for most guaranteed money in a free-agent signing period.

That's, at the very least, attempting to take care of family business.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.