When it comes to the New England Patriots this offseason, the only thing people are talking about is the loss of Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker, who signed a two-year contract earlier this week with the Denver Broncos.
The team found an adequate replacement in former Rams wideout Danny Amendola. Now the attention needs to turn to the defensive side of the ball and, in particular, the pass rush.
When Tom Brady agreed to restructure his contract earlier this offseason, he did so in large part to help keep the team competitive. The venerable quarterback is reaching the final stages of his career and has to realize his window to win a fourth Super Bowl is closing.
So when the news broke that the Patriots are hosting free-agent defensive ends Dwight Freeney and John Abraham, Brady and Pats fans should have jumped for joy. If there's one thing New England needs it's pass-rushers.
Certainly Freeney and Abraham are past their primes. Neither can be considered a full-time player anymore. But that won't matter to New England because in the end, the signing of either or both will come down to one thing–putting pressure on the quarterback.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the master of getting the most out of his players. Imagine what he could do with a defensive end/outside linebacker rotation that included 2012 first-rounder Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Freeney, Abraham, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham and second-year man Jake Bequette. Talk about depth and versatility. The possibilities would be endless.
Last season, the Patriots recorded 37 sacks, which ranked 15th in the National Football League. Yet, no player reached double figures in sacks–even though Ninkovich was close, with eight.
Essentially, the Patriots were just average at getting to the quarterback, which is not good enough for a team that is built to get a lead then pound opponents into submission. The best thing to pair with an electrifying offense is a potent pass rush.
Freeney and Abraham are not meant to be long-term answers. Freeney after all is 35 years old and is coming off a five-sack season with the Colts, while Abraham is 34 years old and is coming off a 10-sack season in Atlanta.
Yet, the reason New England is a perfect fit for both of these aging pass-rushers is because the only thing they will need to do for the Patriots is just that–rush the passer.
The Patriots don't need either of these guys to come in and play much in the base defense (whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3). They simply need them to help the pass rush become dominant once again–and there is no doubt that a group containing Ninkovich, Jones, Freeney and Abraham would have the potential to be exactly that.
So while some may be expecting the Pats to choose between one of the veteran defensive ends, it's clear they should sign both. USA Today reporter Mike Garafolo believes the team could end up doing just that.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 15, 2013
Neither player should break the bank. It's time New England takes the cap space opened up by the Brady deal and invests it into re-making a defense that has failed over and over again in the postseason.
Brady will have the offense at a championship level again in 2013, even without Welker. Now it's time for Belichick and the Patriots organization to make sure the defense reaches that same level. Adding two legitimate pass-rushers would be a great step in that direction.
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