By: Steve Balestrieri
With the second day of the “legal tampering” period here before NFL Free Agency starts on March 11, this is the time of year where much speculation and rumors usually abound. The Patriots are usually in the midst of many of these and have some areas to address of their own, among them tight ends, interior OL/DL help, and depth at the DE position in the form of edge rushers.
Last season Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were just flat-out overworked and played far too many snaps for the defense. Jones was in for 98 percent of the defensive workload while Ninkovich played about 95 percent.
The result was their production was well off going down the stretch and really hurt the team in the postseason. Jones had one sack in the team’s final seven games with none in the playoffs. Ninkovich had only 2 sacks in the final five games with zero in the playoffs.
The team didn’t have enough depth there to help take the pressure off of the two starters and they were forced to remain on the field. Andre Carter is starting to show his age and wasn’t as effective as in times past here and Michael Buchanan, after playing some early in the year, saw his workload decrease down the stretch. Jake Bequette was invisible and played less than 10 snaps on defense.
There is some help out there in free agency and perhaps the best fit would be Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Allen is part of a talented group of free agents at DE that include Michael Bennett, Michael Johnson, Lamarr Houston, Justin Tuck and Everson Griffen.
Bennett and Johnson are expected to fetch the most money and will probably be outside the Patriots range. Both are 28 and 27 respectively and have about 4-5 years of peak production left.
Houston will be 27 in June and is a bit under the radar while playing for the Raiders but is solid in both run-stopping and rushing the passer with 6 sacks. Griffen, 26 would be more affordable and would primarily serve as a sub-package pass rusher.
Tuck will be 31 this season and after a slow start in 2013, finished on fire with 11 sacks for the Giants.
Durability/Production a Plus: While all of them have their upside, Allen the elder statesman (he’ll be 32 on April 3) would be a great fit. He’s remarkably durable having played in every game since coming to Minnesota in 2008 (96 games) and has outstanding production, having at least 11 sacks for the past seven years.
Allen still possesses a relentless motor and has unrealized goals in his career. Currently 12th all-time on the NFL’s sack list Allen has made it clear his goal upon his retirement is to be #1. Also on his radar is an elusive Super Bowl title so the desire is still there.
Allen in an interview on Wednesday with Sirius XM Radio had some interesting quotes about playing for a team with a winning, stable quarterback: “If you can play for one of the top five quarterbacks, that makes life easier, especially for rushing the passer,” he said. “You get tons of opportunities when you’re leading games by 14 or more.”
Why It Might Not Work: Money. Allen still wants to get paid like he’s one of the top DEs in the game and while the $11.62 million he got last season will not even be in the discussion with the Patriots, Allen has made it clear that he expects to be paid what he’s worth and doesn’t feel that he is a declining veteran even at 32 and would like to quiet his critics.
He also wants to go somewhere that he can still play the majority of the snaps.With New England, Jones and Ninkovich are the established starters and Allen, although sure to get plenty of work might not get the amount of snaps he’s looking for.
Allen is definitely an intriguing option for the Patriots to pursue, adding him to the mix with Jones, Ninkovich and a return to health of Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead would give New England plenty of pass rushers both inside and outside.
The Patriots have experimented with the Giants “NASCAR” package and could still push Jones inside on occasion and those players would definitely help the Patriots pass rush which disappeared in the playoffs when they needed it most.
New England would fit the bill for Allen playing with a team with stability at QB with Tom Brady and playing with the lead, giving him opportunities to rush the opposing quarterback. The only question to be resolved will be how much money he’ll need to feel satisfied. And those numbers can always be inflated by bonuses tied to production and roster bonuses.
It isn’t known who if any of the free agents at DE are on the Patriots radar. But the fact that they need help there isn’t in question, one can easily look at the production down the stretch and say it is an area that needs to be addressed. And Jared Allen would be a very valuable asset in a Patriots uniform.