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New England Patriots Analysis: Tommy Kelly a calculated gamble

There have been three pass rushing defensive tackles from the Oakland Raiders organization on the free agent market in Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly. The Raiders wanted to re-sign Bryant, and the New England Patriots reportedly showed interest in Bryant before pulling out of the race for him. Bryant would later sign a big deal with the Cleveland Browns, and then the Raiders released Kelly. They were always expected to release Kelly ever since the end of February, and they finally made the move to cut Kelly. The third? Former Patriots star Richard Seymour, who is still out on the market.

Ian Rapoport reported yesterday that the New England Patriots have signed Tommy Kelly to a two-year deal.

Now in April, Kelly has a new deal after receiving little interest on the free agent market. Does it matter that Kelly received little interest now that he has been signed by the Patriots? Sort of, because it hints to us that Kelly came very cheap for the Pats. And after last year’s issue with signing a veteran pass rushing defensive tackle in Jonathan Fanene, the Patriots can’t afford to make a mistake like that again two years in a row.

The good news is that Kelly doesn’t carry any of those injury concerns with him, but the bad news is he brings another concern that is common with Raiders players- penalties. Kelly was incredibly undisciplined last season in a variety of ways, and his ten penalties epitomize that. Yeah, ten. The good news is that this is a problem that can be corrected in New England, because I’m sure Kelly knows that ten penalties isn’t going to fly with Bill Belichick and the Pats organization.

So Kelly will have to cut down on those, and I’m sure he will. A change of scenery will do him well, and the Patriots approach to discipline is far better than the Raiders approach to it. I mean, pretty much their entire team was penalty-prone last season. On the “change of scenery” front, let’s just say that Tommy Kelly wouldn’t be the first player to experience brighter days and better productivity after leaving the Oakland Raiders for the New England Patriots.

The 32-year-old DT’s contract likely carries no guaranteed money, because he’s 32 and received no interest. The fact that the Pats are giving him more than one year shows that they think he can bounce back and does indeed have something left in the tank. The funny thing is Kelly was supposed to receive plenty of interest on the free agent market after he was released, but that’s not how things ended up. Maybe it was because Kelly overvalued himself, or maybe it’s because teams were scared off by what happened last year.

It’s telling that he was a no-brainer for the Raiders to release, but that likely had more to do with his horrible cap number. The Raiders saved $4.775 million by cutting him off, and his production definitely did not match his salary. He had a poor season last year, because the penalties completely undid his mediocre work in run defense and as a pass rusher. Kelly is usually better as a pass rusher, but the Raiders didn’t really use him right either last year anyway.

It is up to the Patriots to use Kelly right, and that is by rotating him in with Kyle Love in pass rushing situations. They need him to be their interior pass rushing presence, and they aren’t going to waste their time using him in running situations. The Pats are banking on Kelly bouncing back with the Pats, and they are also banking on him having something left in the tank. The 2012 season treated Kelly poorly, and he earned the stigma of being “lazy”.

The Patriots are making a calculated gamble here, because we don’t know if Kelly can bounce back or if his decline is real. We also don’t know if he will react well to a change in scenery with the Pats or just be another Albert Haynesworth bust at DT in New England. But I have my hopes that Kelly is much different from Haynesworth, and that he fits the Pats well. The whole “he’ll teach Armond Armstead” angle isn’t something that I buy, because Kelly isn’t the mentoring type. However, he will give the Pats a proven veteran pass rushing presence on the inside that will go well with Vince Wilfork. A lot of Pats fans have chimed in saying they love the move, while others have stated that they hate it.

Kelly next to Wilfork on passing downs is a great combination if Kelly plays as well as he did as a pass rusher in 2011. He was terrorizing quarterbacks that year, and he would do so again in 2013 if he can turn things around with a new, better situation. The Patriots will give Kelly the opportunity to be more disciplined, and I think that’s all Kelly needs to succeed. The fact that he has signed with the Pats on a presumably dirt cheap deal shows that he is the latest veteran player to buy into the Pats system. If he can buy in, then he can take advantage of the blockers Wilfork swallows up and finally give the Pats a true pass rushing presence.

It doesn’t seem like the Pats will prioritize drafting a pass rushing interior defensive lineman like Sylvester Williams or Kawann Short, because Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead are two new signings with the potential to fill that void. I like those two additions in combination, because they get one proven veteran who can bounce back after a poor 2012 season in Oakland, and they also add a young, project DT in Armstead who had success with the USC Trojans and in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts.

Overall, I would give this signing a B+. It isn’t a great move in the “A” range, but I think it’s a very good signing for the Patriots that could really pay off big for them. It could also blow up in their faces, which is why this is a calculated gamble. The Patriots have done an incredible job structuring contracts this offseason, so I’m sure Kelly’s deal is extremely easy on the cap. Another bright takeaway from this deal with Tommy Kelly is the fact that the Patriots can narrow their focus in the draft on WR and DB, and they can also try and go “best available” a bit easier with a pass rushing DT in the fold.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Armond Armstead Bill Belichick New England Patriots NFL Free Agency Tommy Kelly Vince Wilfork

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