The New England Patriots have been preparing for the departure of linebacker Jerod Mayo all season.
They signed, gave (undeserving in this opinion) snaps, and then gave an extension to linebacker Jonathan Freeny.
They acquired former Chicago Bears starting linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who was selected two picks ahead of Patriots stud linebacker Jamie Collins, in a midseason trade.
If the Patriots aren't ready to see Mayo leave the locker room, at least they've been doing their best to lighten the blow.
The 2015 New England Patriots were fairly unique in their deployment of linebackers as it was the first time the team took the plunge into a 4-2-5 base formation. Historically, the team has straddled a line with maybe 50%, or even up to 60%, of snaps came in the nickel, but a whopping 75.4% of defensive snaps used just two linebackers, and an additional 11.4% only used one linebacker.
The Patriots used three linebackers on just 13.2% of snaps, and never more than three.
Here's the current linebacker depth chart:
LB: Dont'a Hightower - Darius Fleming - Eric Martin
LB: Jamie Collins - Jonathan Freeny (third linebacker) - Jonathan Bostic - Kevin Snyder
The Patriots could be comfortable moving forward with Hightower, Collins, and Freeny as the defensive linebackers, and with Freeny, Fleming, and Bostic as the special teams players, as all five offer defensive upside.
That said, while Freeny is a core special teams player, New England wouldn't hesitate to improve over Fleming or Bostic with a player that could play on special teams with defensive upside (read: young player).
Don't be surprised if the Patriots use one of their many 6th or 7th round picks on a linebacker with the potential to fight for a final spot, but also don't be surprised if and when the team moves forward with Hightower, Collins, and Freeny as the top three linebackers.
Personally, I would disagree with that decision, but the Patriots operated with just Mayo, Collins, and Hightower at linebacker to start the 2014 season. Injuries forced the Patriots to acquire Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers in the middle of the year.
The ridiculous string of injuries in 2015 point to a serious need to treat the linebackers, even with just two players on the field on a regular basis, as a four-deep position. Either Bostic has to develop into a viable defensive player, or the team should address the position in the offseason.