By now, you've probably heard the news: Patriots defensive end / outside linebacker Mark Anderson is (likely) headed to the Buffalo Bills. While both sides had wanted Anderson to return to New England, Patriots management decided that the price tag was simply too steep to make a deal work.
And with Anderson headed to Buffalo, there's no doubt about it: the Patriots pass rush has taken a significant hit. The Patriots didn't have another player who could consistently put pressure on the quarterback the way Anderson did in 2011 (Carter had the sacks, but not the consistent pressures). Anderson also turned out to be an excellent fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the playoffs. It's a shame that his price tag really escalated so much, and you can't really blame Bill Belichick and co. for not exceeding their price range for Anderson, but there's no question that Anderson's presence makes the Patriots a better team. And now, he heads to a division rival where the Patriots will have to face him twice a year... great.
So where do the Patriots go from here?
The first logical step would be for the team to re-sign pass rusher Andre Carter. While Carter might not be a great fit as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, he can play a ton of snaps with his hand in the dirt in sub-packages and he could play a Terrell Suggs or DeMarcus Ware role in the base defense (essentially rarely dropping into coverage and usually just rushing). I should also point out that Carter rushed from a 2-point stance a fair number of snaps in 2011.
The Patriots should then look at internal options to bolster their rush. I think that, entering his third year, Jermaine Cunningham could be an intriguing option to once again assume a starting role in the 3-4, at either ROLB or LOLB. The only thing with Cunningham is that he'll likely never develop into a prolific pass rush threat. There's also the option of Markell Carter, the 2011 6th round pick out of Central Arkansas that is an intriguing pass rushing option. The team also recently signed former Raider Trevor Scott, who had significant pass rush production his first two years in the league, before struggling with injuries over the last two seasons.
However, for the Patriots, the best option to replace Anderson's value as a pass rusher is going to be through the draft. Losing Anderson just increases the pressure on the Patriots' front office to acquire a true "blue chip" defensive playmaker for the front seven in. Again, losing Anderson isn't the end of the world for the Patriots. However, I think it means this could finally be the year the Patriots pick up a pass rushing threat with high potential in the draft.