By: Steve Balestrieri
Free Agency is set to begin for the NFL on March 12 at 4 p.m. and the Patriots may be in the market for some help, especially on defense and there are few players at Defensive Tackle that may be able to help the team.
While most of the twitter and internet communities are focusing on Ed Reed and Aqib Talib (and the secondary is a concern) one area that the Patriots are very thin is at DT, which is why they consistently used DEs playing inside on many downs.
Bill Belichick always says that pass defense is combined effort between the pass rush and the coverage. And the Patriots, who ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks in 2012 (tied for 15th Pittsburgh and Baltimore) with 37, didn’t have a consistent pass rush during the season and it needs to upgrade its capability.
Look back to the Patriots Super Bowl seasons of 2001, 2003 and 2004 and some of the better role players were those guys who battled on the interior of those Patriots defenses. And yet many people scarcely remember Anthony Pleasant, Bobby Hamilton and Keith Traylor, and Ted Washington.
Those players were stout in the run department but could also push the pocket from the interior. The team recognized that this was a weakness last season and thought they addressed it with the signing of Jonathan Fanene, like the year before with Albert Haynesworth. But Fanene was beset by unknown knee problems and never stepped on the field. Haynesworth never was in shape and the desire was no longer there.
The team signed Armond Armstead from the CFL at the conclusion of the Patriots playoff run and he is an intriguing prospect. The physical, athletic 300 pounder was thought to be a 2nd round pick last year at the NFL Draft, but a heart attack derailed his chances of being drafted and he answered the call in Canada. His play there attracted the Patriots and he may end up being an every down player but there are other DTs that are available and possibly worth a look…
Henry Melton (CHI) – Melton began as a running back at the University of Texas through his sophomore season. Now about 60lbs heavier Melton has great strength and quickness, and he’s athletic as you would expect an ex-running back to be.
Melton playing opposite Julius Peppers has developed into one of the top interior pass rushers in the NFL. With 6 sacks and a lot of additional hits and pressures up the middle, he has become an important cog in the Bears defense.
There is a very good chance that the Bears will make every effort to re-sign Melton, and he probably won’t be a bargain basement signing but with a new regime in Chicago and facing having defensive end Israel Idonije, and linebackers Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher also up for new contracts, Melton is an intriguing if somewhat far-fetched prospect.
Desmond Bryant (OAK) – An under the radar kind of player, Bryant is an excellent blend of run-stopping and pass rushing defensive tackle for the Raiders. The Harvard educated player is big, 6’6”, 311 lbs, young, 26 and could probably be brought away from Oakland for a chance to play for a winner in New England.
Oakland will be trying to retain him, but the Patriots have raided Oakland’s roster before of pass rushing types before in Trevor Scott (last season) and Derrick Burgess. Playing beside Vince Wilfork and with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at DE could be a solid defensive front four that could bring pressure and stop the run.
For a more in-depth look at Bryant see WEEI’s Chris Price’s nice profile on him here:
Jason Jones (SEA) – Jones may be a lot riskier proposition due to injury concerns, he went on IR late in the season with a knee injury after suffering knee problems in Tenn. but Jones is another interesting option for a situational pass rusher.
Jones signed a one-year deal with Seattle in 2012 and was slowed early by an ankle injury. In mid-season he began to hit his stride and was playing extremely well as situational pass rusher for the Seahawks before going down again.
With the Seahawks facing cap issues and having only $13.5 million remaining under the cap, they make no big move to re-sign Jones, and with the interest in him low due to injury concerns, the Patriots may be able to make a play for him to come in and contribute on passing downs for a modest amount of money.
While the secondary remains a primary concern for the Patriots, don’t go to sleep on the defensive line, I doubt the team is done addressing the tackle position with Armstead only and one of these three may be the target the team is searching for.