Yesterday, veteran defensive end Chris Long took to Instagram to announce that he will leave the New England Patriots via free agency. After having won his first Super Bowl, the 31-year old is now looking for more steadiness and stability both on and off the field.
For the Patriots this means that the team now only has to worry about re-signing 12 unrestricted free agents instead of the original 13. But the move also has a deeper trickle down affect on the team.
The defensive edge rotation loses at least one of its members
In 2016, the four-man rotation included Long as well as Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich and Trey Flowers. The latter two are still under contract in New England but Sheard, like Long, is also headed towards free agency. While there have not been any indications about him leaving, the Patriots defensive edge depth will look different in 2017. After all, by losing Long, New England loses the most snaps played by a defensive edge (60.2%); a role that might now go to another player – like the following:
Trey Flowers should get a bigger role
During the playoffs, Flowers became the clear number one on the defensive edge. The second-year man played 162 of a possible 187 snaps (86.6%), almost tripling Long’s playing time (62 snaps, 33.2%). Moving forward and with Long out of the picture, Flowers’ regular role will likely look more like it did during the postseason, as compared to the regular season when he was the number three option in terms of snaps.
Defensive edge becomes an offseason priority
Even if Sheard re-signs with the Patriots, losing Long means that the Patriots will need to add another edge defender over the course of the offseason. Both free agency (Jared Odrick, for example, who reportedly passed a physical with the team) and the draft have intriguing options for New England to consider. With plenty of resources in cap space and draft capital, the team could afford to bolster its depth using both methods.
During his one season with the Patriots, Chris Long was a vital member of the defense even though his role grew smaller once the playoffs started. Still, New England needs to find a way to replace what the veteran brought to the table; be it internally or externally. They likely will do both.