Second in a ten part series that ranks the Patriots top offseason moves.
The New England Patriots went into the 2012 with an eye on picking up some depth along the defensive line. With Andre Carter and Mark Anderson hitting the market as unrestricted free agents, and Shaun Ellis a failed experiment, the Patriots were in need of a versatile defensive lineman that could play a variety of roles for the team. Initially, it appeared that the team's plan A was to sign Seahawks tackle/end Red Bryant.
Bryant ended up re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks on a mega-deal that the Patriots likely didn't feel the desire to match, so the team went with their plan B: to bring in former Bengals defensive end Jonathan Fanene.
Fanene is a a 6'4", 292 lbs. defensive lineman who spent the first seven years of his career with the Bengals. After missing most of the 2010 season, Fanene returned to the field in 2011 and recorded 24 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 16 games with the Bengals (2 starts). According to ProFootballFocus.com, in 484 total snaps, Fanene also picked up an additional 7 quarterback hits and 15 quarterback hurries.
It's also important to note the versatile role that Fanene played for the Bengals. In 2011, Fanene saw significant snaps at both defensive end spots as well as both defensive tackle spots. For the Patriots, Fanene could see time at any of the four defensive line spots in the 4-3 or sub-packages, as well as at end right defensive end in the 3-4.
Fanene's versatility and production are major reasons why his signing was ranked as the #9 offseason move. However, also consider the contract and his age. At age 30 and having been a part-time player for the majority of his career, Fanene should still be a productive player through the three years of the contract. Furthermore, considering that the contract is only worth a total of $12 million, it frees up a lot more money for the Patriots to spend elsewhere in the future. Had the Patriots signed a defensive tackle similar to a deal similar to the $5 years and $35 million that Red Bryant received from Seattle, they would have had a heck of a lot of money tied up in the defensive tackle position.
Expect Jonathan Fanene to be a key contributor for the Patriots in 2012. More importantly, expect him to be a key contributor who comes at a very reasonable price.