Almost immediately after the NFL lockout finally ends in the (hopefully) near future, a shortened and certainly chaotic free agent period will begin. Many teams with plenty of cap space will be fighting hand and fist over players in the free agent pool, one that is particularly deep in terms of talented players this year.
Luckily for Patriots fans, your team already has a leg up on the competition before the free agency period even begins. That’s because defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden are expected to return to the defensive unit after both missed the entire 2010 season due to injuries.
If Warren and Bodden can play close to the level they did before they got hurt, then New England’s defense will receive a boost without even having to break out the checkbook to sign pricey free agents.
And in a way, it’s like the Patriots are picking up two free agents without even having to pay to acquire their talents (of course, they are already being paid by the Pats).
Plus, Warren and Bodden’s returns can help address the defense’s biggest need heading into 2011: pass rush.
For the past calendar year, fans and media around Foxboro have complained that Bill Belichick’s defensive unit has lack the ability to pressure the quarterback, at least to the level needed to win a championship.
At times in 2010, the defense was surprisingly effective in how they put heat on opposing passers. But in the end, the Patriots’ pass rush (or lack thereof) led to their ultimate downfall in the postseason.
I don’t have to remind any New England fans about the fact that, in their meeting with the Jets, Belichick’s defense allowed an unmolested Mark Sanchez to pick apart the Patriot secondary on a consistent basis, en route to an improbable 28-21 playoff upset.
And given that this need wasn’t addressed in this past April’s NFL draft, Warren and Bodden currently represent the team’s best chance of shoring up this weakness. Warren was a perennial Pro Bowler before his injury, and lining him up side by side with mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork once again should provide better defensive pressure in the trenches.
And if Warren isn’t very effective upon his return, a strong secondary—bolstered by the returning Bodden—will serve as a good remedy for the lack of a pass rush.
Not only will Bodden add depth to the cornerback position, he could return the starting role he held in 2009, when he snagged five interceptions.
If he does, then Bodden and fellow defensive back Devin McCourty could form an imposing cornerback duo in 2011. And if Warren and Bodden both return healthy and productive, then New England will have scored a major victory in the 2011 free agent game before even playing it.