Returning Players: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love (ERF), Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor
Free Agents: Gerard Warren
Defensive tackle is one of many positions on the defense that will undergo changes this off-season. Whether or not the Patriots return to the 3-4 defense doesn’t really matter, the team needs to add youth and athleticism to the DL.
Wilfork is one of the best interior DL in the league and Kyle Love is a nice young player who really took a step forward this season. However, after that there is not much else that can be counted on.
Ron Brace looks like a bust after yet another vastly disappointing season. Mike Wright and Myron Pryor are decent players, but can’t be relied upon at this point due to injuries. Mike Wright especially is a question mark moving forward due to his concussion history. Getting more pressure from the interior of the defense will be important.
It seems to me that all the Patriots DTs right now are in the same mold; big bodied run stuffers. When Pryor and Wright went down they really missed their ability as penetrators to get into the backfield. Defensive tackle is a position I see the Patriots targeting early in the draft with either a true DT a NT or a 3-4 DE who can play multiple positions along the line.
Priority Level: 3.5
Returning Players: Brandon Deaderick
Free Agents: Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter
Defensive end was a big question mark heading into last season and Bill Belichick seemed to address it by putting a one year band-aid on the problem. He signed three veterans to one year deals and hoped it could hold up for one season. Bill Belichick ended up looking like a genius yet again as both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson posted double digit sacks this season. Shuan Ellis didn’t work out as well and was a forgotten man most of the year.
All three are now free agents, leaving a big hole and a big question mark. I expect the Patriots to try hard to re-sign Mark Anderson. Anderson is younger, more explosive and has some flexibility in both a 3-4 and 4-3. Andre Carter was having a great year before the season ending quad injury he suffered in Denver. Sooner or later the Patriots will return to the base 3-4 defense that Bill Belichick is known for. I’m sure Carter would love to return, but a lot will have to be worked out before he does.
his is a position I think the Patriots invest some serious resources in. I could see them using their first round pick on a 3-4 DE like Fletcher Cox and I could also see the team going after a top free agent to add a long term presence at the position.
Priority Level: 4
Returning Players: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Rob Ninkovich, Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian, Markell Carter
Free Agents: Tracy White, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutivides
Like every offseason, it seems like the Patriots have questions at the linebacker spot, especially the OLB spot.
Rob Ninkovich has turned into a very solid NFL player and reminds everyone a lot of Mike Vrabel. However, there is literally no one on this roster right now that can play opposite him.
They need to find a reliable OLB who can not only rush the passer but also someone who can succeed in pass coverage. The linebackers were awful all season at covering backs, tight ends and WRs in the middle of field. It is something that other teams exploited on a week to week basis. Adding coverage LBs who are not only more athletic, but also more physical is vital.
Mayo and Spikes are a solid combo in the middle, but this is a position that severely lacked depth-to the point where we have guys like Tracy White and Niko Koutivides actually playing meaningful minutes in the Super Bowl.
The great defenses on 2003-2007 were built around the LBs. This team has some building blocks in the middle but need to add talent around them. I fully expect the Patriots to draft at least one LB early on in the draft and also look for coverage backers on the free agent market.
The OLB spot is one position where Bill Belichick has prefered to spend money in the free agent market, rather than drafting and developing players. One player to keep an eye on is Markell Carter an OLB who spent the season on the practice squad. It will be interesting to see the improvement he made with a year in the system. He was given multiple pay raises to stay with the team due to interest from many other teams around the league.