Out of contract – Gerard Warren, Shaun Ellis
On the roster – Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Myror Pryor, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
Free agents available – Calais Campbell, Kendall Langford, Cory Redding, Red Bryant, Adam Carriker
Draft options – Devon Still, Fletcher Cox, Jerel Worthy, Brandon Thompson, Kendall Reyes, Jared Crick
Vince Wilfork was absolutely outstanding in 2011. In his best season in a Patriots uniform, Wilfork was a warrior playing in 86.8 per cent of the team’s defensive snaps, as opposed to 69.8 per cent in 2010. He recorded 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. He is the Patriots leader on defense and more valuable to the team than any other player except Tom Brady.
Looking past Wilfork however, it is apparent that the Patriots have some questions their defensive line.
Albert Haynesworth was a massive disappointment and was released during the season. Shaun Ellis failed to have the impact many hoped for and was anonymous for large portions of the season. Mike Wright is unlikely to ever play football again after sustaining a season-ending concussion two years in a row.
Gerard Warren had his moments but at his age, one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Ron Brace has failed to justify his draft status and may struggle to make the roster for 2012.
Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love and Myron Pryor are all promising young players who have shown steady improvement in their time with the Patriots but none of them strike fear into opposing quarterbacks at this point in their careers.
The Patriots need to add an impact defensive lineman to help take the load of Wilfork.
The free agent pool is light on high calibre talent.
Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals is outstanding but he is unlikely to hit the open market. He will be franchised. Kendall Langford of the Miami Dolphins is someone who could potentially be a fit. The Dolphins are moving to a 4-3 and already have a pair of quality defensive tackles in Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Langford is a good young five technique who would fit nicely in New England.
Cory Redding, Red Bryant and Adam Carriker are cheaper options the team could potentially look at.
If the Patriots want to add an impact player they are likely to do so via the draft. I will be surprised if they do not select a defensive tackle in the first two rounds.
Fletcher Cox, Jerel Worthy and Brandon Thompson are all likely to be available at the end of the first round. Jared Crick and Kendall Reyes are other solid options who should be available in the second round.
This is an area I would expect Bill Belichick to be aggressive in addressing in the offseason.
Don’t be surprised to not only see him invest a high pick at the position, but also to bring in a couple of veterans to add some experience to a very young group.
Belichick has also had success with bringing in late round picks and undrafted rookie free agents (see Pryor, Love and Deaderick). He is likely to continue this. I would expect there to be strong competition for roster spots along the defensive line by the time training camp roles around.
Likely moves - use an early pick on a defensive tackle, sign two veteran players, release Mike Wright and bring in a couple of late round/undrafted free agents to compete for a roster spot