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If you believe the rumors, the NFL Lockout very well could be coming to an end sometime in the next couple of weeks. Personally, I won't be exhaling until the doors are officially re-opened, but that doesn't mean that we can't start to look forward to what could very well be a very strange free agency period.
The one burning question that is on most Patriots fan's minds is the following: will the Patriots make a play for a pass rusher in free agency?
Just as a disclaimer, I'm not going to answer that question today... that will be left up to you to debate. But there's a couple of things that I think should be kept in mind.
First, keep in mind that the Patriots aren't afraid to gamble on a big-name free agent pass rusher. In 2003, the team signed Rosevelt Colvin. Colvin had a relatively successful career with the team. Despite struggling with injuries, Colvin managed to win two Super Bowl rings, and picked up 26 sacks in 65 games with the team. In 2007, the Patriots made an even bigger gamble, signing former Raven pass rusher Adalius Thomas to a monster contract. Although Thomas had a solid first year and a half with the team, a rift with team management (and personality differences) caused his Patriots career to fall apart. After the failed experience with Thomas, the Patriots traded a pair of mid-round draft picks for Derrick Burgess. Burgess spent one less than stellar year with the team before being cut in the 2010 preseason.
I don't really buy the whole "Bill Belichick won't make the mistake of overpaying on a pass rush again" sentiment. I think the issues with Thomas are something to keep in mind, but I think if Bill Belichick finds the right pass rusher, he won't hesitate to make the move.
The issue becomes finding the right guy. Does the 2011 free agent class have that player?
A Look at some free agent pass rushers after the jump!
In short, I have absolutely no idea but I would tend to doubt it. But based on what I've been reading, here are some of the players who could be available:
- Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers: At 6'2", 275 could certainly set the edge. Had 11.5 sacks last year but only one year of real production. No linebacker experience, will be pricey, and the Panthers are going to try hard to keep him.
- Jason Babin, Tennessee Titans: Finally broke out in 2010 with 12.5 sacks after bouncing around. Is 31, will be expensive, and hasn't played the position.
- Ray Edwards, Minnesota Vikings: Patriots showed interest in him pre-draft. Has prototype size and athleticism, but never had more than 8.5 sacks. Will be expensive.
- Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants: Has prototype size, and has played strong side linebacker in the 4-3. Will need to stay healthy and provide more consistent sack production.
- Manny Lawson, San Fransisco 49ers: Has plenty of experience playing linebacker, but has virtually no sack production. Is a solid all-around linebacker, but might not provide anything that Rob Ninkovich doesn't.
- Matt Roth, Cleveland Browns: Has 3-4 outside linebacker experience and has shown flashes but won't wow you. Eric Moore seems a more viable alternative.
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly some viable pass rushers, but there's no "must have" guy in the 2011 free agent class at the position. Charles Johnson and Jason Babin both had good 2010's, but are aging and haven't proven anything over the long haul. I think the Patriots will stay away.
Manny Lawson and Matt Roth are solid football players and actually have 3-4 outside linebacker experience. However, I don't think they bring anything to the table that the Patriots don't already have on their roster. They would be better suited going to a team that is transitioning to a 3-4, where they could see more ample playing time.
That leaves just Mathias Kiwanuka and Ray Edwards. Edwards could come with a hefty price tag, and I doubt the Patriots would get into a bidding war over him. Kiwanuka seems like he could be a nice fit, but then there's the injury concern. I wouldn't mind seeing the Patriots go after one of these two, but I wouldn't exactly be doing backflips if they did land one of these guys.
Personally, I would rather see the Patriots pick up a potential diamond in the rough. Someone who may have been buried on a depth chart but could possibly earn a roster spot (see case: Rob Ninkovich). The bottom line is that while the Patriots would like to improve their pass rush and I don't think they would hesitate spending money if the right player were available, the most likely solution will be to develop the pass rush internally.
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