As the dust settles from a hectic week in Foxboro, maybe the demise of the New England Patriots isn't as imminent as it seems after all.
The Patriots reportedly signed defensive end Adrian Clayborn away from the Atlanta Falcons, running back Jeremy Hill away from the Cincinnati Bengals and offensive tackle Matt Tobin away from the Seattle Seahawks late Friday. The signings cap off a week which began with mass departures from Foxboro, but also included the acquisitions of defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Jason McCourty in separate trades with the Cleveland Browns, as well as the re-signing of running back Rex Burkhead.
Clayborn and Shelton were both first round picks upon entering the NFL. McCourty, of course, is the twin brother of New England safety Devin McCourty. He, along with Shelton, will be moving from a team that went 1-31 over the last two seasons to a team that’s played in each of the last two Super Bowls.
Clayborn, who'll turn 30 prior to the start of training camp, signed a two-year, $12 million contract, according to multiple reports. A seven-year veteran, Clayborn registered a career-high 9.5 sacks last season with Atlanta, although that total is a bit misleading: six came in a single game against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 12. Nevertheless, the sack total was the highest since his rookie year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011, when he had 7.5.
His addition provides some much-needed depth along the edge for the Patriots, who also have Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Eric Lee signed for next season. Clayborn did not suit up for the Falcons in Super Bowl LI against New England after suffering a torn bicep earlier in the postseason.
Hill, 25, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Bengals, who drafted him in the second round in 2014. After rushing for 1,124 yards in his first year in the league – averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry in the process – Hill has seen his production level off, failing to crack 1,000 yards again and never averaging more than 3.8 yards per carry in a single season.
Through his first three seasons in the league, however, Hill had 29 rushing touchdowns – tied for most in the NFL over that span, along with former Patriots' runner LeGarrette Blount. In seven games last season, he had just 116 yards on 37 carries. He's the second back in as many off-seasons to join New England via Cincinnati, following Burkhead.
With the 27-year-old Burkhead back in the fold as well, the Patriots' depth chart in the backfield also consists of James White, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden, the latter of whom is primarily a special teamer. It goes without saying New England should still draft a running back next month. Burkhead signed a three-year, $9.75 million with the Patriots on Wednesday.
Shelton, 24, was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2015 draft, the same draft which produced current Patriot defensive lineman Malcom Brown with the last pick of the first round (No. 32). At 6-foot-2, 343 pounds, Shelton is the closest thing New England has had to Vince Wilfork since he departed following the 2014 season. In 46 career games – 44 starts – Shelton has 1.5 sacks, 71 tackles and a pass defended.
The Patriots gave up a 2018 third-round pick to acquire Shelton, while also receiving a 2018 fifth-round pick back from the Browns.
Jason McCourty came from Cleveland with a 2018 seventh-round pick, with New England giving a 2018 sixth-rounder back.
Jason and Devin McCourty are identical twins, although Jason left Rutgers a year earlier than Devin and has been in the NFL since the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft.
Despite an extra year of service time in the league, Jason has never appeared in a postseason game. The Titans missed the playoffs in each of his eight seasons in Nashville, only to get back to the postseason a year after he departed. Devin's Patriots have had a first-round bye in each of his first eight seasons.
In his lone season with Cleveland, when the Browns became just the second team in league history to go 0-16, Jason McCourty appeared in 14 games, recording three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and defended 14 passes.
Communication issues certainly shouldn't exist between the McCourty brothers in the secondary, although whether Jason winds up starting alongside Stephon Gilmore at corner remains to be seen. Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones are also on New England's depth chart at the position.
Tobin, 27, first signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He appeared in 15 games last season with Seattle, all as a reserve, and has 21 career starts in 57 games.
For a week that began with the losses of wide receiver Danny Amendola to the Miami Dolphins, left tackle Nate Solder to the New York Giants and running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler to the Titans, the Patriots have done quite well for themselves in re-stocking their roster.
Some of New England's key free agents who remain unsigned include special teams captain Matthew Slater and offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming.
There's still more questions than answers when it comes to tight end Rob Gronkowski returning, too. But as expected, the Patriots have staved off the sky from falling too far just yet.