Bill Belichick was named the Pro Football Writers of America's 2021 Executive of the Year for his successful season in leading the Patriots back to the playoffs after a 7-9 finish in 2020. Belichick successfully pushed the reset button with a strong free agency class followed by an excellent draft. The results were a 10-7 season with a seven-game win streak mixed into the middle of the season.
Hunter Henry led the way on offense for the free agency additions, posting a career-high nine touchdowns as he emerged as a favorite target of rookie Mac Jones, while wide receiver Kendrick Bourne set career highs in catches (55) and yards (800), while also rushing the ball 12 times and throwing a touchdown. Henry and Bourne were highlights but the team also received solid performances from a number of other free-agent additions, including Ted Karras and Trent Brown along the offensive line and while high-profile additions Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith didn't set any career highs, they made their share of contributions and should be even better in their second seasons with the team.
On the defensive side of the ball, new addition Matthew Judon led the way with 12.5 sacks, while the re-acquisitions of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins helped pay defensive dividends as the Patriots allowed the second-fewest points in the league and the fourth-fewest yards. Jalen Mills was also a consistent contributor in the secondary, allowing the lowest completion percentage and yards-per-target of his career.
But the 2021 offseason wasn't just about the 2021 regular season and that's why Belichick is especially deserving of kudos. The high-priced, multi-year deals all went to players very much still in their primes, meaning 2021 was just the start of what the class can contribute. All will be in New England for 2022 and many are under contract for seasons beyond this fall.
That kind of performance in free agency might have alone been enough to earn Belichick the PFWA nod, but he added onto the successful signings by finding three immediate-impact players in the draft, with first-round pick Jones leading the way at quarterback. After Tom Brady's departure and a year under Cam Newton, the Patriots' long-term questions at the most important position in the game overshadowed just about everything else. In Jones, the team has reset their course toward the future.
But even Jones was complemented by second-round pick Christian Barmore, who was an immediate pass rushing nightmare for opposing offenses and fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson, who helped form a deadly duo with Damien Harris in the Patriots backfield. With a number of other rookies who were developing or rehabbing behind the scenes as well, we still don't know yet exactly how good the 2021 class could be but it's already a slam dunk.
Despite the success of the team-building period of 2021, Belichick will need a repeat of his team's success this offseason. With a host of significant internal free agents and a reduced amount of cap space, Belichick might face an even bigger challenge in 2022. But with the team largely remade and some new impact veterans and youngsters in place, the Patriots have a solid new core to build around.