For 20 years, the New England Patriots have bought consciously in free agency, dipping a toe, foot, rarely a whole leg in the water. This offseason, Bill Belichick dove in headfirst, splashing money around lavishly.
A cocktail of favorable circumstances placed the Pats in a unique position to splurge in free agency. And a desperate need to infuse a roster riddled with holes provided the impetus.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Peter King for his Football Morning In America column that the over-the-top spending was a calculated bet from the usually stingy club.
"It's like investing in the stock market," Kraft said. "You take advantage of corrections and inefficiencies in the market when you can, and that's what we did here. We'll see. Nothing is guaranteed, and I'm very cognizant of that. But we're not in the business to be in business. We're in this business to win."
With the salary cap sinking for the first time in more than a decade, most teams were strapped in how much they could spend. The Pats, meanwhile, had a boatload of cash to hand out -- $69 million to start free agency, third-most in the NFL. With less competition this year, New England could snag players they might have been outbid on.
"We had the second or third-most cap room at the start of free agency," Kraft told King. "This year, instead of having 10 or 12 teams competing for most of the top players, there were only two or three. And in my 27 years as owner, I've never had to come up with so much capital before."
With several deals still to officially be accounted for, the Patriots have already guaranteed more than $162 million. When it's all said and done, Belichick is likely to have handed out more than $172 million in guaranteed money, which as ESPN beat writer Mike Reiss pointed out, is the amount Kraft paid for the club when he bought it in 1994.
The Patriots spent a total of $24.4 million ($7.8 million guaranteed) on 15 free-agent signings in 2020, according to Spotrac. Their largest signing, defensive tackle Beau Allen, came on a deal worth $7 million in total value. In 2021, the Patriots have spent over $250 million worth of contracts on 15 players. The team has also signed nine players to contracts worth at least Allen's $7 million in total value, per NFL Research. Three Patriots signings this offseason came with price tags of at least $25 million in guaranteed money, which is more than their entire 2020 free-agent class combined.
The Patriots tossing money around to fix mistakes made in recent drafts is out of character but calculated. Kraft knows that his club is betting big that the money spent will pay off. Most teams that win March are sitting at home in January.
"We'll see," Kraft said with some caution. "I do remember we always made fun of the teams that spent a lot in the offseason. So we know nothing is guaranteed, and I'm very cognizant of that."