In the lead-up to free agency, we'll be looking at each Patriots free agent and projecting whether or not they will re-sign with the Patriots this offseason;
Position: Defensive End / Outside Linebacker
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2011 Stats: 16 games played; 1 game started; 29 tackles; 10 sacks; 2 FF; 1 pass defensed
Overview: In 2011, the Patriots had one of their best pass rushing duos in recent memory with Mark Anderson and Andre Carter - who picked up ten sacks apiece. For Anderson, the majority of his sacks came on third downs as he was a sub-defender for most of the season. In fact, Anderson didn't log more than 41 snaps in a game until the season finale against the Buffalo Bills.
Nonetheless, when the Patriots switched to the 3-4 defense in the playoffs, Anderson become a full-time starter at ROLB, and was really effective. In three playoff games, Anderson recorded 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He continued to excel as a speed-rusher in passing situations, but also showed an ability to shed blocks and make plays in the backfield against the run. While Anderson may not be the "typical" Patriots 3-4 outside linebacker, he definitely showed the potential to make a full-time move to the position.
The question for the Patriots now becomes whether or not they're willing to pay to bring him back. Because of his gaudy sack totals, there could be a team that wants to break the bank on him. In that scenario, I imagine the Patriots probably would let Anderson walk. However, assuming his asking price isn't through the roof, I imagine the Patriots would like to bring Anderson back into the fold. For people making the Tully Banta-Cain comparisons - I don't buy it. In 2009 and 2010, Banta-Cain's sacks came in bunches, and often were "clean-up" sacks that didn't reflect genuine disruption as a pass rusher. Anderson consistently won one-on-one match-ups in 2011, and just from re-watching games, I don't think you could argue that those sack numbers were "inflated." For right now, I see the Patriots bringing back Anderson on a short term deal with a high base salary, and a team option for 2013.
Prediction: Re-signs on a two year, $10 million deal