For New England Patriots fans, the NFL lockout has reduced the offseason to weekly updates on the length of Tom Brady's hair and stories covering Bret Lockett's supposed fling with supposed celebrity Kim Kardashian.
It's a sad state of affairs with no free agency news or rumors to discuss in New England, but this lockout doesn't have to keep us from speculating. We still know a lot about this team and what to expect in 2011 despite the changes and rookie additions.
Tom Brady is still going to play at an elite level, the offensive line is still in great hands with coach Dante Scarnecchia and the young defensive corps is going to continue developing and improving.
While many constants remain, change can still be expected.
One specific need that New England largely ignored during the draft happens to be at a position the team has long sought a permanent solution for. The Patriots lack an outside pass rusher and have lacked one for quite some time.
This isn't to say the team hasn't tried to solve this dilemma, however.
New England has brought in countless veterans, invested early-round draft selections and even chased big-time free agents. Still, veterans like Tully Banta-Cain, draft picks like Shawn Crable and free agent signings like Adalius Thomas have largely failed to live up to expectations at outside linebacker.
Just last offseason the Patriots went all in on a permanent solution when they pursued free agent Julius Peppers. New England even offered a contract to the star pass rusher reportedly in the $10 million a year range. Its bid obviously fell quite short of Chicago’s $91.5 million offer in the end.
So the question bears asking: Would the Patriots consider investing in another free agent addition, and if so, who would they pursue?
Your answers are mere clicks away.
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The Detroit Lions made defensive end Cliff Avril their third-round selection in the 2008 draft.
He's still only 25 years old and clearly has yet to reach his performance ceiling. After compiling 10.5 sacks in his first two seasons, Avril collected 8.5 in 13 starts last season.
This 6'3", 260-pounder runs the 40-yard dash at a blazing 4.5 seconds and can be an absolute menace when he gets after the quarterback. Avril has already collected eight forced fumbles through his first three seasons.
There's only one problem here from a Patriots perspective: There's practically no chance Detroit lets Avril go. However, if he somehow hits the free agent wire, New England should be all over him.
Jacob Ford was a little-known prospect in the 2007 draft, and he has remained out of the spotlight through his first four years in the NFL.
The 27-year-old was a sixth-round pick by the Tennessee Titans despite his impressive performance at the combine. Ford ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, which ranked second among defensive ends. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds for 19 reps.
The 6'4", 250-pounder has collected 15.5 sacks in his three seasons; Ford missed the 2007 season with an Achilles injury.
If the Patriots determined a need on the defensive line, Ford could fill the void while providing a solid pass rush from the end position.
Charles Johnson is the type of person you could call an opportunity taker.
The 24-year-old was a third-round pick in 2007, and up until 2010 he was a largely unknown commodity on the Panthers' defensive line. Julius Peppers' departure created the opportunity for a new pass rushing threat to step up, and that's precisely what Johnson did.
Entering last season with two career sacks, Johnson broke personal records in 2010. The defensive end collected 11.5 sacks, which ranked fifth-best in the NFL.
Again, if New England decides to address the defensive line, it has a player available in Johnson who could fill the void while offering sky-high potential in the pass rushing department.
Manny Lawson, a former first-round pick in 2006, has been a bit of a disappointment in San Francisco.
The 26-year-old has largely failed to live up to the lofty expectations of his first-round status. Lawson has only compiled 14.5 sacks to this point in his career. He managed 6.5 sacks in 2009, which most interpreted to be a sign of a possible breakout.
Lawson followed that up with only 2.5 sacks in 2010, but maybe a change of scenery is what he needs. Tully Banta-Cain never managed more than 3.5 sacks in his time with the 49ers, yet he's produced five or more sacks three times while playing for the Patriots.
Lawson is a 6'5" beast who came out of college running 4.43 40-yard dash times, and New England would be an interesting reclamation destination.
Ray Edwards may be one of the most consistently effective pass rushers available.
The 26-year-old was a fourth-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. Edwards has racked up an impressive 29.5 career sacks and has progressed nicely with no signs of slowing down.
Edwards totaled 13 sacks over the first three years of his career, but after earning extensive playing time in 2009 and 2010, he turned it up a notch. He notched 16.5 over the last two years and has earned himself a hard look from any team looking to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Mathias Kiwanuka has had an interesting career to this stage.
A first-round pick in the 2006 draft, Kiwanuka won the starting job in 2007 and helped the Giants defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
He made 16 starts in 2008 and collected a career-high eight sacks, but Kiwanuka has struggled since.
In 2009 he only made six starts and struggled to even get on the field in 2010 due to injury. Now 28 years old with a history of neck issues, many rightfully wonder what this guy has left to offer.
I'm in the boat that knows this guy has 23.5 sacks in 41 career starts and that he's a force to be reckoned with when he's on the field. I think he's a prime candidate for a breakout season in another city, and it'd be mighty interesting if he decided to make that reclamation attempt in Foxboro.