The retirement of veteran linebacker Jerod Mayo has left a vacancy in the New England Patriots depth chart for a possible free agency fit.
On one hand, the team seemed find to use Jonathan Freeny as the 3rd linebacker, which would point to the team possibly wanting a younger linebacker to reduce Freeny's special teams snaps.
On the other, Freeny wasn't very good, so maybe the Patriots would be happy finding a quality veteran to make sure Freeny remains on special teams.
There are a few options around the league that could fit. Here's a short list.
6. Titans LB Zach Brown; 26 years old. Brown was in an unfortunate position after being a starter his first two seasons in the league, he suffered a pectoral injury that knocked him out for the entirety of 2014. That just so happened to be the first year with a new coach, so when Brown returned in 2015, he was phased out of the Titans defense. He could be a great rebound candidate, similar to Akeem Ayers.
5. Bears LB Shea McClellin; 27 years old. McClellin is a former defensive end, turned outside linebacker, turned inside linebacker, and could be a great fit on the inside of the Patriots defense. He's athletic and he is a willing special teams player. He could perform a similar function to Dont'a Hightower on the edge, and allow Hightower to remain inside. He will probably be available for roughly $2 million per year.
4. Washington LB Mason Foster; 27 years old. Foster signed a one-year deal with Washington after he was cut by the Bears. He played three good years in Tampa Bay before Lovie Smith entered the picture and changed the defense- similar to Brown. Foster is a good run stuffer, which makes him an ideal fit for the Patriots 3rd linebacker spot, and he could be signed for cheap.
3. Patriots LB Dane Fletcher; 29 years old. Fletcher missed last season with an injury, but he's familiar with the Patriots system, he plays special teams, and he's a viable defender in a pinch. While he may be redundant with Freeny, he's still a good fit for the roster and would be available for the veteran minimum.
2. Cowboys LB Rolando McClain; 27 years old. Maybe the Cowboys will want him back, but McClain would be a great third option in the Patriots defense. It wouldn't make sense for McClain to come to the Patriots, since he's higher on the depth chart in Dallas, but he would be in a great spot. Could pull in between $3 million and $4 million next year.
1. Jets LB Demario Davis; 27 years old. How about another reclamation project? Davis was a great, athletic linebacker for the Jets under Rex Ryan (and Buffalo could be an ideal landing spot), but Davis lost playing time under new head coach Todd Bowles. Davis went from being a 100% snap player to a 21% snap player by the 16th game and he could reemerge in New England. Could pull in an Akeem Ayers-like $3 million per year.