By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots have reportedly signed DT Tommy Kelly formerly of the Raiders to a 2-year contract. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
The signing will fill a big need at the DT position were the team was very thin last year next to Vince Wilfork. Kelly is big, (6’6, 325 lbs) and is still good at pushing the pocket from the inside. Last year, next to Wilfork, Kyle Love was very stout in the run game but didn’t offer up much in the pass rushing department. The team also signed former USC alum and CFL Armond Armstead who can play outside at defensive end as well as move inside at the tackle position. Brandon Deaderick is also in the mix although both he and Myron Pryor have battled injury concerns the past few seasons.
Now with a four man rotation, the depth issue facing the Patriots should be solved. At times last season the team rotated DEs Justin Francis and Jermaine Cunningham in an attempt to get a pass rush push up the middle. Kelly is durable having played in every game since 2008. Kelly has long been a favorite of head coach Bill Belichick but at age 32, how much he has left in the tank would be the biggest question.
The best case scenario would be having Kelly as a situational pass rusher and spot starter as needed and keeping fresh legs on the field. With his size, he can spell Wilfork or Love in obvious passing situations and a healthy Deaderick and Pryor could make a big difference. Add in Tracy Robertson and Marcus Forston and the DT competition at camp should be something to watch.
The Patriots have flirted with DEs and free agents John Abraham and Dwight Freeney who have been in for visits but haven’t been offered a contract yet. So the tinkering with the Patriots defense may not be over. But the Patriots have long recognized a need for a bigger push at the tackle position. They’ve signed Albert Haynesworth, wooed but lost out on Red Bryant and signed Jonathan Fanene last spring only to find out he suffered from knee issues.
With DEs Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich already in place, the pass rush should be improved. Jones with a second year under his belt will be expected to make a big step up. Ninkovich is a solid, clutch player who plays best in big situations. The team while still possibly looking at Abraham or Freeney, can also look to Francis, Cunningham and second year player Jake Bequette as well as CFL and former Northeastern OLB/DE Jason Vega in the mix at DE.
The team defense is starting to take shape a little now and with the draft around the corner, more moves will be coming.