NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Yesterday, potential offensive free agent options were profiled; today, the defensive side of the ball will get some attention. In contrast to the disappointing crop of offensive free agents, the defensive class is rich with logical options for New England, many of them potential starters. Read on for more information regarding some of the most appealing defensive players available.
DT Glenn Dorsey, Chiefs
Dorsey was frequently projected to New England in the days leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft; instead, he ended up on the Kansas City Chiefs, where he has been contributing recently as a five-technique defensive end in former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s defense. He sat out most of the 2012 season after being placed on injured reserve in early November, but was a very effective run defender in both 2010 and 2011; he could offer the Patriots some schematic versatility by allowing Bill Belichick to implement more two-gap 3-4 looks on defense.
Dorsey could also challenge incumbent defensive tackle Kyle Love for reps in the Patriots’ 4-3 base defense; however, despite his reputation for creating pressure at LSU, Dorsey is not considered a dangerous pass rusher. It’s possible that Dorsey’s pass-rushing production could increase in a four-man base, the defense he played in during college, but it’s probably more realistic to expect run defense and not much more.
DT Sedrick Ellis, Saints
Ellis competed with Dorsey for draft positioning back in 2008, ultimately being drafted by New Orleans with the seventh overall pick after New England traded down. Through five years, Ellis has played both defensive tackle positions with the Saints, but is probably a better fit for the three-technique “under” tackle position currently manned by Kyle Love.
Ellis didn’t live up to his draft billing, but at times he has been a disruptive pass rusher in New Orleans; with the Patriots, his struggles as a run defender may be masked by what is otherwise a disciplined, stout Patriots defensive front. Ellis has the size (6’1″, 305 pounds) and strength to potentially fit into three-man defensive fronts; his youth and versatility would make him an intriguing addition on a one or two-year contract.
DT Wallace Gilberry, Bengals
If a player such as Jones proves too rich for Bill Belichick’s blood, a player such as Wallace Gilberry could provide a cheaper alternative. Gilberry, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama back in 2008, has been successful in the past playing under Romeo Crennel in Kansas City. Another tackle/end tweener, Gilberry spent most of his time at defensive end with the Bengals this past season and enjoyed a career renaissance, finishing the year with 24 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a reserve/rotational player.
Cincinnati will likely attempt to retain Gilberry, but it’s also possible that their defensive line depth will leave him looking for work again this offseason. Gilberry seems like a logical fit for New England; however, the team had ample opportunity to sign him last offseason and opted not to, justifying concerns over whether or not Bill Belichick desires him.
DT Jason Jones, Seahawks
Although he was placed on injured reserve with a sore knee in late December, Jones justified his decision last offseason to sign with Seattle on a one-year, $4.5 million deal, believing that his play this season would eventually earn him a handsome long-term deal in the offseason, an approach which also worked for former Patriot Leigh Bodden. Jones, who turns 27 in May, is a defensive tackle/defensive end ‘tweener who struggles against the run but is considered among the best rotational pass rushers in the league.
He may have played himself out of New England’s price range this season, but it would be wise for the Patriots to reach out to him once free agency begins. Jones could provide the type of versatile pass-rushing presence that the team had originally hoped Jonathan Fanene would give them. It’s possible that the 6’5″, 275-pound Jones could be lured to New England on a similar deal.
DT Trevor Laws, Rams
New England hosted Laws last March before the defensive tackle ultimately opted to sign a one-year deal with the St. Louis Rams. However, Laws’ season did not go as planned: he was placed on injured reserve last August with a knee injury, missing the entire season and damaging his market value. On a cheap one-year deal, the former second-round pick could offer New England some versatile defensive line depth, having played both defensive tackle and nose tackle with the Eagles in a reserve capacity from 2008-2011.
Laws isn’t considered the most dynamic pass rusher, but he has the bulk and strength to contribute against the run. Finding a reserve nose tackle option could be a priority in New England in the coming months after the Patriots opted to release second-round draft bust Ron Brace this season, creating a void on the depth chart behind Vince Wilfork.
DT Amobi Okoye, Bears
Last March, the Patriots were rumored to show interest in defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who was drafted by the Houston Texans with the tenth overall pick back in 2007 before becoming a journeyman rotational tackle. Okoye eventually signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April before being released; he subsequently spent a couple of stints with the Chicago Bears last season.
At this point, it’s possible that Okoye is nearing the end of his brief NFL career, which is somewhat surprising considering his productivity as a member of Chicago’s defensive line rotation in 2011 (27 tackles and four sacks on the season despite making just one start.) Because of his lack of size (6’2″, 292 pounds), Okoye offers little to nothing as a run defender but could interest New England as an interior rusher on obvious passing downs similar to the roles previously held by players such as Myron Pryor and Mike Wright. Okoye would likely be available on a cheap one-year deal.
DE Andre Carter, Raiders
After struggling to transition to Washington’s 3-4 defense in 2010, Andre Carter signed with New England on a one-year deal in 2011 and immediately provided New England with a disruptive pass-rushing presence and strong run defense; his well-rounded game allowed New England to utilize him at defensive end in creative three and four-man defensive fronts with both one and two-gap responsibilities. He recorded ten sacks through fourteen games, but eventually suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury which prevented him from being healthy in time to secure a lucrative free agent deal.
Ultimately, Carter signed with the Oakland Raiders and appeared in twelve games as a reserve, recording just 2.5 sacks on the season. Carter, who will turn 34 in May, undoubtedly will have to settle for another cheap one-year deal which may appeal to a Patriots team which is dealing with a difficult salary cap situation.
DE Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders
A New England native, adding a young defensive lineman such as the twenty-six year-old Shaugnessy could provide the Patriots with some flexibility along the defensive line. Shaughnessy was selected with the seventy-first overall pick out of Wisconsin back in 2009; he contributed four sacks to Oakland’s defense as a rotational left end. He ultimately developed into a starting right end during the 2010 season, a role he has sustained ever since (with the notable exception of a season-ending shoulder injury suffered three games into the 2011 season.)
Shaughnessy has not achieved much success as a pass rusher, but is considered an excellent run-stuffer at the defensive end spot; he has also gained a significant amount of weight since being drafted. After weighing in at 260 pounds during the 2009 NFL Draft Combine, he has bulked up to 285 pounds. New England could use Shaughnessy in a role similar to Brandon Deaderick’s; however, the impending free agent could opt for a deal which offers a more permanent starting role.