Looking at the free agent profile of upcoming Patriots free agent defensive end Akeem Ayers.
Name: Akeem Ayers
Position: Defensive end / linebacker
2014 Season: Initially a second round pick of the Titans out of UCLA in 2011, Akeem Ayers was traded to the Patriots, along with a seventh round pick, this past October in exchange for a sixth round pick. The trade turned out to be a major coup for the Patriots. After playing extensively at linebacker for Tennessee, Ayers immediately stepped into the starting line-up for the Patriots following a hip injury to Chandler Jones. In nine games, Ayers picked up 20 tackles and four sacks. He also picked up an additional four hits and 23 hurries in 247 snaps rushing the quarterback (via PFF) and was featured on multiple special teams units. While his role was reduced following the return of Chandler Jones, he did see some time in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. He assisted in tackling Marshawn Lynch at the one yard line on the play that preceeded Malcolm Butler’s game winning interception.
Why the Patriots should sign him: Ayers is an extremely versatile piece, and can line up virtually anywhere in the front seven (4-3 MLB, 3-4 ILB or OLB, 4-3 DE). 2015 will be Ayers’ age 26 season, so he still has plenty of upside. When Chandler Jones went down with a hip injury this season, the Patriots had virtually no depth behind him. Rob Ninkovich, at age 31, is not getting any younger and will have to have his workload reduced at some point. While Ayers is not elite as an edge rusher, his presence allows Chandler Jones to kick inside in passing situations. While he would not project as a starter for the Patriots, he represents the type of depth that elite defenses thrive on.
Why the Patriots should let him walk: Although the Patriots did not have a whole lot in the form of edge depth in 2014, that should not be the case in 2015. 1st round draft choice Dominique Easley should be healthy and will have a year in the system under his belt. If he improves as anticipated, there may be even fewer snaps available to Ayers. In four games that Chandler Jones played full-time after returning from injury, Ayers was on the field for just 29 snaps. The Patriots also have two other young edge rushers to keep an eye on in 2015: Michael Buchanan and Zach Moore. With a wealth of young depth and the usual strong market for edge rushers in free agency, Ayers might not make financial sense for a return to the Patriots as a part-time player (similar to Mark Anderson in 2012).
Prediction: The Patriots are most likely to take a wait-and-see approach with Akeem Ayers. The team was ecstatic with his production following a mid-season trade, and they would probably want to see what they could get out of him with a full offseason of work. That being said, Ayers’ strong performance in New England could spike his market. If that’s the case, considering the young depth the Patriots have in waiting, do not expect the Patriots to pursue Ayers through a bidding war.