Free agency Day 2: Whose plan is better, Detroit Lions or New England Patriots?

Detroit Free Press

Day 2 of the free agent negotiating period is here and since the New England Patriots are once again digging into their bottomless pit of money to try and solve their roster problems, I figure I’d start today’s running notes and observations column by asking which approach do you prefer to free agency: the Patriots’ money-solves-everything plan or Detroit Lions’ sit-back-and-wait-for-bargains strategy?

I realize this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The Patriots entered the week with one of the most favorable cap situations in the NFL, and Bill Belichick is nearing the end of his career, while the Lions, with a new coach and new GM, continue to cut veterans to free up cap space.

But in reality, neither team was any good last season, both have what look to be powerhouses in their own division (the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers) and NFL teams are only as constrained by the cap as they want to be.

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The Patriots added a second tight end to their shopping cart today, reportedly agreeing to a deal with Hunter Henry, and now have commitments from seven free agents to sign when the league year opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

According to ESPN, they have guaranteed $137.5 million in new contracts already, which is just shy of the free agent record of $147.2 million by the Miami Dolphins last season.

The Dolphins, of course, missed the playoffs, as have two of the other four teams that have given out more than $100 million in free agent guarantees. The two teams that did not miss the playoffs lost in the wildcard round, so big free agent expenditures generally mean little when it comes to on-field results.

The Lions are in a deep rebuild, but their roster wasn’t in that much worse shape than the Patriots entering the week.

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Jared Goff had a better season than Cam Newton last year (the Patriots re-signed Newton this week). Both teams were devoid of talent at receiver (the Lions at least had T.J. Hockenson at tight end). The offensive lines were comparable; New England’s was slightly better in 2020, but the Patriots are losing Joe Thuney to free agency. And while the Lions had significantly more work to do on defense, it’s not like the Patriots are a top-five defense anymore.

The Patriots’ moves this week make them unquestionably the better team in 2021, but are they a playoff team with the Bills and Dolphins in their division? Are they a Super Bowl contender with the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes still at the top of their game?

I’m not sure on either account.

As for the Lions, well, the playoffs don’t appear to be anywhere in their near-term future, either, but they’re playing the compensatory pick game and have a couple first-round draft picks stockpiled, so they might be in better shape down the road.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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