DE Trevor Scott
One season removed from a season-ending ACL tear, Trevor Scott joined New England this past offseason and regained enough of his athleticism to contribute 289 fairly productive defensive snaps. Scott, who turns 29 in August, started two games with the Patriots and recorded three sacks and one forced fumble on the season as a rusher out of two and three-point stances while making additional contributions on special teams. However, he may be a casualty of New England’s deep defensive end rotation, which includes many younger players.
LB Dane Fletcher (RFA)
Dane Fletcher ended up missing the 2012 season after tearing his ACL in the preseason opener, but he is expected to be ready in time for the beginning of New England’s offseason. Fletcher’s absence highlighted the club’s lack of linebacker depth this year, as Rob Ninkovich was forced to shift from defensive end to both middle and strongside linebacker at times this year; the Patriots also played Bobby Carpenter, Niko Koutouvides, Jeff Tarpinian, Michael Rivera, and Tracy White lightly. Before getting injured, Fletcher’s workload had increased from 166 snaps in 2010 to 304 in 2011; look for New England to retain his services.
LB Niko Koutouvides
Koutouvides played 46 defensive snaps in 2011, but that number fell to just nine in 2012; he added just two tackles on special teams. Although Koutouvides, who turns 32 in March, has the versatility to play either middle linebacker or strongside linebacker, it appears that the Patriots are ready to part ways with the veteran. His best chance of rejoining the squad would be as an injury replacement; look for him to land on New England’s emergency list this season.
LB Tracy White
Speaking of special teams contributors with declining production, Tracy White made just four tackles on New England’s special teams units this season while appearing on 72 defensive snaps after making it onto the field for 250 in 2011. White dealt with an injury issue which caused him to miss five games, and his declining production on special teams units will likely push him out of New England, especially because his defensive value is relatively low.
CB Kyle Arrington
Arrington played more snaps for the Patriots this season than any defensive back aside from Devin McCourty; like McCourty, Arrington was asked to move between two different positions. Arrington began the season as a right cornerback, but ended up with slot responsibilities for much of the season’s second half, where he was more successful.
Arrington allowed four touchdowns on the outside compared to one as a slot defender; however, that raises the question of whether Arrington should be compensated as a starter (having played 947 snaps) or as a reserve (due to his position.) For a modest sum, the Patriots should be interested in bringing Arrington back, but if he demands to be paid like a quality starter, New England should show him the door and look for a replacement in the draft.
CB Marquice Cole
Cole was signed by the Patriots for his exception special teams ability, but he also factored in more than expected as a defender, taking 232 defensive snaps this season, primarily in the slot. He finished the season having allowed 16/27 passing for 215 yards and one touchdown, intercepting one pass. New England would be wise to try and work out a one-or-two-year deal with Cole, whose special teams contributions alone warrant a roster spot, but whose coverage ability was a pleasant surprise in 2012.
CB Derrick Martin
Derrick Martin was an intermittent contributor for the Patriots in 2012, most notably playing 51/59 snaps in New England’s season finale victory over the Miami Dolphins, a game in which he recorded one sack and one hurry. He also made three special teams tackles on the season. Martin likely won’t alter New England’s offseason plans in any way, but he could be brought back on a non-guaranteed one-year deal to provide a swing reserve capable of lining up at cornerback or safety.
CB Aqib Talib
Aqib Talib’s contract negotiations could get messy this offseason, as he would be justified in seeking a long-term contract with significant guaranteed money after spearheading the secondary’s resurrection. New England, on the other hand, may have reservations about committing too much money to a player who has only been on the team for six games and whose prior decisions earned him a league-mandated suspension this season. After allowing two touchdowns and eight catches in his Patriots debut, Talib limited opposing quarterbacks to 21/34 passing for a total of 235 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions in that span.
Perhaps more importantly, Talib’s presence allowed Devin McCourty to move to strong safety and New England’s coaching staff more creativity in employing man coverage shells; Talib’s highlight this season was likely his lockdown performance vs. Andre Johnson in week fourteen (2/3, seventeen yards, one pass defensed.) This year’s draft class features a number of potential starters in the defensive backfield, but the Patriots have historically been unable to develop prospects in the secondary; the confidence, the flexibility, and the stability Talib brings are worth a two or three-year deal at market value.
FS Will Allen
Will Allen, a twelve-year veteran who turns 35 in August, was surprisingly placed on injured reserve by New England during the preseason and retained on the reserve list for the entire season rather than being released with an injury settlement a la Torry Holt. His age and injury history (spent most of 2009 and all of 2010 on injured reserve) will likely prevent him from earning a roster spot with the Patriots, but he may return as a mentor through training camp and preseason if he is still interested in playing.
SS Josh Barrett
Josh Barrett may have an incredible combination of size (6’2”, 225 pounds) and athleticism (ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds at the 2008 NFL Combine), but he has been constantly injured in recent years. Barrett spent all of 2010 on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and the past two seasons on IR with calf injuries, playing in five of the past 48 regular season games. At this point, he is likely too unreliable to warrant re-signing, even though his skillset is well-suited to New England’s hybrid linebacker/safety position.
SS Patrick Chung
New England’s top pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Patrick Chung was expected to develop into a versatile defensive enforcer in the deep secondary, but that instead took a step back in his contract year, likely pushing him off of the Patriots and into the free agent pool, where he will look for another starting opportunity.
Chung missed eight games in 2011 and four more this season while losing his starting job to Steve Gregory. Chung’s durability and tightness in coverage make him a risky financial investment for New England or another club; due to the lack of quality safeties in the NFL, Chung is one free agent who could be overpaid on the open market.