Linebacker Derrick Johnson was named as a must sign player for the New England Patriots in free agency.
The New England Patriots have some areas on the roster that need a revamping. However, the team is strapped for cash, as they are near the bottom of the NFL in cap space. As a result, the Patriots are going to have to get creative when adding pieces to the roster.
Creating cap space isn’t always difficult to do in the NFL. Players can be released to alleviate some cap pressure or have their contracts restructured. One of the positions the Patriots are likely to add players is at linebacker.
Last season, the Patriots were hit hard by injuries at linebacker. Dont’a Hightower played only five games last season before a shoulder injury cut his season short. Kyle Van Noy battled injuries. David Harris, who retired after the season, was ineffective with New England after coming over from the New York Jets.
The Patriots were able to add veteran James Harrison the final week of the regular season. The Pittsburgh Steelers released Harrison, and people questioned if he had anything left in the tank. It was clear in his time with New England that he still has something to offer.
There is reportedly a reasonable chance that Harrison returns to the Patriots for the 2018 season. Even if he returns, the team would be smart to add some more players at the position.
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With linebacker being a need, it should be no surprise that is the position that the Patriots go in ESPN’s latest article. In a recent piece, ESPN picked a must sign player for every team in the league.
The Patriots must sign player was Derrick Johnson. Johnson played the first 13 seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. At 35-years old, the Chiefs decided to move on.
Here is what ESPN had to say about the Patriots must sign player being Johnson.4
"Savvy veteran linebacker to the Patriots. Is there a more obvious fit in this free-agent class? All three of the Patriots’ starting linebackers at the end of the year struggled, with Marquis Flowers the highest-graded at 52.9, ranking 54th in the NFL. At 77.3, Johnson graded out as the 33rd-best linebacker in the NFL, particularly impressing in coverage. Allowing a reception once every 18.7 snaps in coverage, Johnson led all inside linebackers in 2017."
Given what was shared there, it is clear that linebacker is one area that the Patriots need to upgrade. Acquiring a coverage linebacker would help the Patriots diversify their packages, as they wouldn’t have to rely on three safety looks as often.
Durability is also something the Patriots would like with Johnson. He has played in at least 13 games every season of his career except 2014 when he appeared in only one game because of injury.
While Johnson was named as the must sign player, a backup signing was also named. The backup signing was at the same position as the must sign player.
For the Patriots, that backup player is Demario Davis, who played with the New York Jets last season. Here is what they had to say about Davis.
"The highest-graded available linebacker in 2017 at 87.3, Davis is coming off a career year."
Acquiring the highest-graded available linebacker in free agency is never a bad move. As a backup plan, Davis looks to be a pretty good one. The Patriots signed a former Jets linebacker last season in David Harris, and it did not work out well. Could they go back and try it again this offseason?
Signing either Johnson or Davis would be a good move for New England. Linebacker is near or at the top of their to-do list this offseason. They are two of the better options available and would be solid additions to the roster.