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Dwight Freeney Would Add No Value to New England Patriots Defense

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 23, 2016

Dec 10, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney (54) against the Minnesota Vikings at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are past the midway point of the 2016 NFL offseason, but there are still opportunities for teams to add talented players to their rosters. When it comes to the New England Patriots' opportunity to add defensive end Dwight Freeney to their roster, there are some opportunities that are worth passing up.

Is there still some gas left in Freeney's 36-year-old tank? After putting up eight sacks on just 267 snaps as a pass-rusher in 2015, signs would seem to point toward "yes." And according to Pro Football Focus, Freeney was the league's sixth-most productive pass-rushing outside linebacker with a total of 36 pressures (24 hurries, four hits, eight sacks) in 2016.

Zak Keefer @zkeefer

Good talk w/ Robert Mathis today. Says former teammate, good friend Dwight Freeney not done by any stretch. "Fire still burns," he said.

But a vote for Freeney with the Patriots is a vote against the development of young pass-rushers already on the roster. Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson have each played three or fewer seasons in the NFL, but all three have shown some potential in their young NFL careers.

Why are we having this discussion? It began when Freeney indicated he would welcome an opportunity to join the Patriots.

"Well, that’s hard to fathom," Freeney told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. "But I'm not against [head coach] Bill [Belichick]. I understand the dynamic involved, but at the end of the day, this is a business. My first allegiance right now is to Arizona, if they're interested. But if it happened that I ended up in New England, I can tell you, both sides would win."

But would the Patriots win?

Freeney, at this stage of his career, is not much more than a designated pass-rusher. He played a total of 317 snaps in '16, with 267 as a pass-rusher, nine in pass coverage and 41 as a run defender.

His playing time has consistently tilted toward pass rushing throughout his career and has accounted for 64.3 percent of his snaps since 2007. However, his pass-rush participation was skewed to 84.2 percent of his snap count in '16, the highest it's been since at least '07.

Patriots DE playing time %, 2015
PlayerTotalRunPass-rushPass cov
Chandler Jones80.734.760.15.2
Rob Ninkovich81.834.750.714.5
Jabaal Sheard63.235.958.85.3
Source: ProFootballFocus.com

Among the Patriots' three-pronged pass-rushing force of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, none of the three played more than 61 percent of his snaps as a pass-rusher last season. One would expect that trend to continue now that Jones is out and Chris Long is in following the Patriots' offseason moves.

In that respect, Freeney would be fourth or lower on the "edge defender" depth chart, behind Ninkovich, Sheard and Long. And with such stringent limitations in his ability, it's fair to wonder if bringing him in would be worth the trouble from a financial standpoint as well as the hassle of teaching the defense to another new player and divvying up those practice reps.

If the Patriots wanted a player to fill that specific, niche role, it would make more sense for it to be a younger player who is already on the roster rather than a veteran who would command a new contract and would also need to learn the defense quickly. Any new players added at this point are already behind the rest of the team, which has been meeting since April. 

The Patriots are never opposed to bringing in a player who is near the end of his career and giving him an opportunity to make the roster—they did the same with former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith in 2014. That was at a time, however, when the Patriots' depth was thin at defensive end.

With more depth at both the top and bottom of the roster in 2016, Freeney might have a hard time fitting into the mix.

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