New England Patriots: 2018 defensive free agency preview
By Luke O'Brien
45 – David Harris – Going
Last off-season the signing of David Harris looked like a shrewd move for a savvy veteran. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Harris move never really worked out. Harris, when he actually made it onto the field, didn’t look like he had the spark anymore. The head appeared willing, but the body wasn’t able. It was no surprise then when he announced his retirement on February 23rd. That move saved the Patriots $2.75 million but, to be honest, he would have been cut otherwise. This way, Harris got to go out on his own terms, and deservedly so.
48 – Harvey Langi – Staying
Word on the street is that Langi will be ready to go this offseason after his car accident, which left him and his girlfriend injured. Langi will be back in to compete for one of the linebacker spots again this year.
As a pre-draft Bill Belichick favorite, one would think if he plays to his potential, he has as good a chance as any to make the roster. With Hightower and Van Noy the only guarantees to make the roster, Langi’s special team ability might set him apart over others when it comes down to the final 53.
50 – Nicholas Grigsby – Staying
The former Pitt Panther was signed mid-season to the Patriots active roster from the Ravens’ practice squad. He has primarily played special teams since going undrafted and being signed by the Rams in 2016. Grigsby is an undersized linebacker at 6’2” and 230lbs. Like many of his Patriots teammates, he is playing on very little next year so will be given time as part of the initial 90-man squad to make the roster.
52 – Elandon Roberts – Staying
The former sixth-round pick is a throwback middle linebacker in the style of Brandon Spikes in that his downhill movement is excellent but he is less comfortable moving laterally or into coverage. He is a solid contributor though and a tackle-machine considering the number of reps he gets. Roberts is entering the third year of his inexpensive rookie deal. Whilst he has established himself as a reliable member of the roster, he knows that his roster spot is far from safe.
53 – Kyle Van Noy – Staying
Kyle Van Noy didn’t have the best of starts to his career in Detroit. After the Patriots traded a seventh and exchanged sixth round picks for him, we started to see the player that the Lions drafted in the second round in 2014.
When Dont’a Hightower went down injured this season, Van Noy was now the primary Patriots linebacker. He settled into the role well and was rewarded with a new deal, which sets his cap number in 2018 at $3.5 million. When he missed time in the middle of 2017, his value rose due to his absence. Along with Hightower, I believe Van Noy is the only lock to make the final 53.
54 – Dont’a Hightower – Staying
Outside of Stephon Gilmore, it could be argued that Hightower is the only real “difference maker” on the Patriots defense. The fact that the Patriots couldn’t stop the run against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII could be down to Hightower’s absence. Hightower’s cap number this year is $8.5 million and he is worth every penny. The only knock on him is that he does struggle to stay healthy but when he is, he is a truly dominant force.
58 – Shea McClellin – Going
McClellin missed all of the 2017 season with a suspected concussion. He has been a decent contributor for the Patriots when healthy but hasn’t really lived up to his first-round pick status. The Boise State alum also will turn 30 by the start of the 2018 season and his cap number is $3.2 million. The Patriots will probably want to use that cap room to sign a younger veteran. Regardless, 2018 is the final year of his contract, so they could do a restructuring of his current deal. It’s more likely however that he is moved on.
59 – Marquis Flowers – Staying
Flowers was a low-risk low reward trade this offseason from the Bengals for a seventh-round pick. He became something of a favorite quite quickly, coming up with some plays in a limited role as a Linebacker despite being brought in to play Special Teams.
Flowers is also quite active and responsive on Twitter and is happy to voice his opinion and engage with fans. He is outspoken about his love for the team and how happy he is about his time so far in New England. A low money deal for less than $1 million per year should be enough to keep Flowers around next season.
92 – James Harrison – Going
Whilst Harrison did make a few plays in New England, he is now an unrestricted free agent. Whilst most believed he would move on after this season, there are strong rumors that Harrison might be back in New England for 2018. I think his situation mirrors that of Ricky Jean-Francois. If the Patriots feel the need to bring him in after training camp then they will. I highly doubt he will be part of the full off-season program but if he is they will want him at a discount rate.