2012 NFL Free Agents: New England Patriots Should Show Kyle Love Some Love

Samer IsmailAnalyst IIMarch 6, 2012

FOXBORO, MA -  SEPTEMBER 18:  Mark Anderson #95 of the New England Patriots sacks  Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers as  Kyle Love #74 of the New England Patriots recovers a fumble in the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Look at the picture above, showing two Patriots defensive linemen bringing down San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Patriot on the left is Mark Anderson. The Patriot on the right is not All Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, but defensive tackle Kyle Love.

Who is Kyle Love?

Love, who is listed at 6'1", 310 pounds, was an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State who signed with the Patriots shortly after the draft.

While the New England Patriots have been criticized for some of their misses in the draft, their ability to recruit and develop high-quality undrafted free agents is impressive.

Nearly every year, Bill Belichick has managed to find at least one undrafted free agent (UDFA) rookie capable of beating out players on the team to win a roster spot. In 2009, quarterback Brian Hoyer beat out three other QBs—Kevin O'Connell, Matt Gutierrez and veteran Andrew Walter—to win a spot.

In 2010, Love became another UDFA to make the team. He played in nine games his rookie season, filling in for an injured Myron Pryor. He made his first start in the Patriots' regular-season finale against the Dolphins

In 2011, his role expanded, as with Myron Pryor again lost to injuries for the season, he started 13 of 16 regular-season games, and all three playoff games. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, he played just over half of the Patriots' 2011 defensive snaps, many of those at nose tackle, allowing the Patriots to utilize Vince Wilfork at defensive end. He finished the season with 33 tackles and three sacks. NFL.com called Love one of 2011's "most improved defensive tackles."

Since Love has two seasons of NFL experience, he is now an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA). That means that all the Patriots need to do to secure his rights for the 2012 season is offer him an ERFA tender for the minimum salary for third-year players, $540,000. His only choices would then be to sign the tender or sit out. If he signs the tender, he would be a restricted free agent in 2013.

That said, quality depth like Love is not easy to find, and they should consider offering Love a two-year deal that "buys out" Love's RFA year. The Patriots did this with Danny Woodhead in 2010, signing him to a cap-friendly two-year deal that included $425,000 in signing bonus, $1.25 million in salary, and over $1 million in possible incentives. While there's no guarantee Love would accept such an offer, it would provide some added security for the defensive line.