The Patriots have announced the trade with the Titans for linebacker Akeem Ayers, signifying that the 6'2, 255 lbs linebacker passed his physical. Ayers had surgery on both patellar tendons over the off-season, but his injury was more minor than Jerod Mayo's.
To make room for Ayers, the Patriots have released a linebacker, Ja'Gared Davis, who is a likely candidate to end up back on the practice squad. Davis has been passed by Deontae Skinner in the depth chart.
The Patriots have not yet formerly announced the signing of Alan Branch.
The release of Davis adds questions for linebacker depth. The Patriots are shorthanded at both linebacker and defensive end, so a natural transformation to the 3-4 front isn't likely. It's possible, especially with the Bears, Broncos, and Colts passing attacks, that the Patriots will be playing primarily in the nickle so any depth will be supplemented by players in the secondary.
Look for Pat Chung to spend more time in the box, while the Patriots play with five defensive backs. It's likely the Patriots will play with a heavy front, and there are a few likely combinations.
When the Patriots play with 4-3 base, it's possible for Dominique Easley-Casey Walker-Vince Wilfork-Rob Ninkovich to be backed by Jamie Collins-Dont'a Hightower-Akeem Ayers. The 3-4 base could allow Ninkovich to stand-up as an outside linebacker while a heavier lineman, like Chris Jones, will take Easley's role in the defensive front.
But it's hard to expect the Patriots will be playing Ayers full snaps until at least after the bye week, so that's why a 4-2 or a 3-3 front makes more sense in the nickel. Just pluck Ayers out of the base line-ups and you should have a fairly solid nickel package.
The Patriots are not in the ideal situation without Chandler Jones, but at least the opposing passing attacks will allow the nickel packages to reduce the impact of questionable depth in the defensive front seven.