New England Patriots 2021 first-round draft pick Mac Jones, center, poses with team owner Robert Kraft, left, and team president Jonathan Kraft on Friday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

When free agency opened in March, Bill Belichick gave his roster a gut renovation. After this weekend in Cleveland, it’ll have plenty of curb appeal, too.

The Patriots coach broke character to guarantee free agents $159.6 million — an NFL record — but there was still a glaring hole on his roster and a couple of patches that needed reinforcement.

First things first: Quarterback needed to be addressed.

Belichick did that masterfully last week in the first round of the NFL draft, taking a quarterback in the Top 32 for the first time in his career as a decision-maker. After Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance came off the board with the first three picks, the Patriots could have gotten squirrelly.

They resisted the urge to overpay and trade up, and Mac Jones, who Charlie Weis describes as a perfect fit in the Patriots offense, fell right into their lap at No. 15. If New England hadn’t made another pick, it still would have been a productive draft.

“Mac was available there at our pick and he’s a guy we spent a lot of time with and felt like that was the best pick at that time for us. And look forward to working with him,” Belichick said. “He’s a smart kid. He’s been in a system that’s similar to ours. We have had a lot of good conversations with him. I think he’ll be able to process the offense.”


On the second night of the draft, Belichick got aggressive.

Though Cam Newton’s anemic offense stole most of the headlines last season, a leaky front seven flew under the radar. Belichick worked to fortify that in free agency – Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy to set the edges, Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson to beef up the middle – but there was a potential game-wrecker on the board early in the second round and Belichick pounced.

The Patriots traded up to pick Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the second round of the NFL Draft. Steve Luchiano/Associated Press

Christian Barmore was the Defensive MVP of Alabama’s victory in the College Football Playoff title game, but fell from the first round because it was rumored he was resistant to coaching.

Belichick and Nick Saban’s close friendship is no secret. With a vote of confidence from the Crimson Tide coach, the Patriots traded a pair of fourth-rounders and their second to jump up to No. 38 overall.

They snagged Barmore and Belichick was clearly pleased.

“It’s pretty unusual to get the first defensive tackle to be drafted at that point and the first interior defensive lineman to be drafted at that point in the draft, so we traded up,” Belichick said. “Felt good about acquiring that and look forward to working with Christian.”


From there, the Patriots took a pair of high-reward players that came with red flags of their own.

Oklahoma teammates Ronnie Perkins (No. 96 overall) and Rhamondre Stevenson (No. 120 overall) were both suspended for positive drug tests in college, but returned for productive 2020 seasons and earned a green light from New England.

A well-rounded defensive end, Perkins was rated higher on most draft boards, and Stevenson is a running back in the mold of LeGarrette Blount. Both could be high impact players, and if not, there’s still plenty of depth at their respective positions. Picking from a position of strength like this has served the Patriots well in the past, even if they don’t contribute immediately.

“I’ve heard that before: Why did you draft James White and he’s inactive all year? And why did you draft Damien Harris and he was inactive all year? And then later on the next year and in the course of their careers those guys have, those are examples of guys that became very valuable,” Belichick said. “So that’s – I think you try to acquire good football players and we’ll figure out how to use them.”

Between free agency and the draft, Belichick now has a roster filled with far more good football players than last fall. Training camp doesn’t open for a couple of months. He’s got time to figure out how to use them.

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