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State of 2016 Patriots Roster: Edge Defenders are Young and Improving

The New England Patriots set up the 2015 season by establishing their pass rush. The team had veteran captain Rob Ninkovich leading the charge, along with 2012 first round pick Chandler Jones. Those two held down the position for the past couple of seasons, but an injury to Jones in 2014 led to the Patriots utilizing the acquired Akeem Ayers for the second half of the season.

The team could no longer afford to play with just two pass rushers. They addressed the issue with the utmost attention.

The Patriots signed free agent edge defensive Jabaal Sheard from the Browns in what some general managers called the most underrated signing of the offseason. Sheard contributed with 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles as the third pass rusher in a beastly rotation. Ninkovich looked to play at his best level in three seasons with added rest, while Jones set a career high with 12.5 sacks.

Beyond Sheard, the Patriots drafted edge defenders Geneo Grissom (3rd round) and Trey Flowers (4th round) in the draft, and added Rufus Johnson with a futures contract. All three made the team, but injuries to Flowers and Johnson derailed their growth after extremely strong preseasons. Grissom remained an important special teams player.

Player 9/1/16 Age Exp FA FA Type 2016 Cap APY
Rob Ninkovich 32.6 10 2017 UFA $4,750,000.00 $3,500,000.00
Dekoda Watson 28.5 6 2016 UFA $745,000.00
Jabaal Sheard 27.3 5 2017 UFA $6,812,500.00 $5,500,000.00
Chandler Jones 26.5 4 2017 UFA $7,799,000.00 $2,043,138.00
Rufus Johnson 26.0 3 2016 ERFA $435,000.00
Geneo Grissom 24.2 1 2019 UFA $680,488.00 $722,988.00
Trey Flowers 23.0 1 2019 UFA $664,733.00 $709,733.00

The whole band will be back in 2016, but that's the end of the line. Ninkovich will be 32 next season and it's unlikely that he's a big part of of the Patriots plans in 2017 and beyond. Sheard and Jones will also be free agents, but both are considered candidates to receive extensions over the next season.

Jones has battled injuries and inconsistency over his time in the NFL, and his recent run-in with synthetic marijuana and the police will raise flags. From a team building standpoint, this probably means that Jones will receive lower money than what he'd make on the open market with a squeaky clean reputation.

Sheard, on the other hand, isn't as much of a physical presence as Jones, but his consistency earned him the trust of the coaching staff. It wouldn't be a surprise if the team tagged Sheard to be the ultimate replacement for Ninkovich in 2017 and beyond.

The trio of Johnson, Grissom, and Flowers will likely be fighting for time over the next few seasons as well. They will be even better with another season in the system, but just note that it might be unlikely for the team to keep all three. Flowers and Johnson seem to be the better defensive linemen, but Grissom offers special teams value that depth players require in order to make the team.

Watson was a fantastic addition in a pinch, and as a special teams player, but he'll probably just be on the injury shortlist moving forward.

The Patriots have no need to address the position in free agency or the draft.