The New England Patriots have brought in veteran defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in for workouts today, and there is a strong chance that one of them will be signed by the Pats as a pass rushing specialist. In my opinion, Abraham is the best choice of the two, even though it wouldn’t exactly be striking out if the Pats decided to sign Freeney instead.
Freeney had a poor season last year, but that’s because he is a veteran who didn’t fit the Indianapolis Colts new 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. That was just asking too much of him, and Freeney does have something left in the tank. However, he didn’t exactly have the best 2011 season either, and Freeney is best used as a “third DE” pass rusher. He should be used frequently in that role as a pass rusher, though, and this will also help prolong his career. The Patriots won’t be asking Freeney to start over Rob Ninkovich or Chandler Jones, and he would likely be more willing to take a backup role than Abraham.
That’s not to say Abraham wouldn’t sign with the Patriots in the same role, and he will probably come cheaper than Freeney. He also had another incredibly productive season last year, and it just seems like Abraham doesn’t age. He’s still a devastating pass rusher who brings the heat with brutal consistency, and that’s what the Patriots need. Their pass rush was there last year, but it only came in spurts- they need much more consistency in that regard.
If the Pats do end up signing either one of these players, then Jermaine Cunningham‘s time with the team as a sub-package pass rusher might be done. The ironic thing is that Cunningham has been more productive recently in run defense than as a pass rusher, and that won’t sit too well, especially since Abraham is also a force against the run.
That ability to make an impact versus both the run and pass is something that makes Abraham more appealing, but the main reason why he is the better candidate is because his production is more certain. He would also likely be used heavily to spell the starting DEs as pass rushers, and I have a feeling Ninko will see his name called off the field more often. Ninko is an incredible run-stopper, but his pass rushing ability comes in bursts of sacks rather than in the form of consistent pressure. But make no mistake, he will still get the brunt of the playing time.
I would love for the Patriots to sign either one of these guys, but I would prefer the Pats to make a deal with Abraham. The consistent ability he showed last season with the Atlanta Falcons has me salivating, and he could be a real difference-maker for this defense. Freeney could too, and Bill Belichick has the best chance of anyone and helping Freeney get back on track.
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