Today in non-Dont'a-Hightower news, the Kansas City Chiefs avoided pissing off their stud safety Eric Berry on Tuesday by not franchise-tagging him for the second year in a row and rewarding one of the only men on the planet that could stop the Atlanta Falcons this year with a beaucoup bucks six-year, $78,000,000.00 deal with a sweet $40,000,000.00 guaranteed and a $20,000,000.00 signing bonus. Unless Berry pulls a Charles Woodson and plays till he's 40, that should make EB a Chief for life, which, from what he was saying, was exactly what he wanted. Everyone's happy!
As we noted when we scoped out Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell last week, though, the young guns getting paid more often than not means that there's not enough cap space to re-sign some of the other core guys. And if you're the Chiefs, who are down to about $3.73 million in cap space after crossing the T's and dotting the lowercase j's on brand new deals for Eric Berry and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, that means defensive tackle Dontari Poe is more than likely the odd man out in the barbecue capital of the United States.
Kansas City isn't expected to franchise tag Poe either, unless something completely out of left field happens:
If you don't catch a whole lot of Chiefs games, Poe checks in at a behemoth 6'3'' and 346lbs, which checks all the boxes for an old-school nose tackle, and, interestingly, just an inch taller and about 15 pounds heavier than New England's beloved Vince Wilfork. And while he's certainly not the game-wrecker that Big Vince was in his prime, he sure seems to fit the prototype for what the Patriots are looking for in a defensive tackle these days.
Consider that Alan Branch, who may or may not be back for 2017, and Malcom Brown, both of whom are more traditional defensive tackles checking in at 320+ pounds, logged the most snaps at defensive tackle for the Patriots in 2016 (I'm going off Football Outsiders for the snap counts), and both pretty much played between half and two-thirds of the team's defensive snaps, which makes perfect sense when you figure New England usually stacks a faster defensive unit up on passing downs. And for all the criticism of the Patriots defense this year because they weren't the 2000 Ravens, they actually gave up the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season, so the D-line is clearly doing something right.
Where the Dontari Poe situation really goes in six directions at once, though, is which Dontari Poe you're getting. Are you getting the brick wall from 2013, where he played a ridiculous 1,063 snaps at D-tackle and Pro Football Focus called him an "excellent run defender" that also, as a nice little onion-ring-in-your-fries bonus, "brought enough as a pass-rusher in collapsing the pocket up the middle"? Or are you getting 2014-2016 Dontari Poe, who certainly hasn't been a slouch or a liability by any means, but quite simply hasn't measured up to the bar he set for himself in his sophomore campaign?
Our good buddies at Arrowhead Pride have a freaking A+ breakdown of Poe's play, including the good, the bad, and the touchdown passes (seriously!), and I'd whole-heartedly encourage you to go check it out for an All-22 review of DP's strengths and weaknesses. For our purposes, here's what matters to the Patriots if they're seriously considering him:
-Dontari's a decent run defender, but he can get swallowed up by double teams, which New England usually expects DTs to be able to handle, which is why Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown keep getting most of the snaps;
-Poe's got some pretty slick D-line moves - his club move rushing the passer gets particular props - but some of his other pass-rush tools are, well, mediocre at best. Specifically, Arrowhead Pride is not impressed with his bull rush, which is kind of important for a D-tackle that's supposed to help get pressure from time to time.
-Basically, as a run defender, he's decent most days, and exceptional some, but don't expect him to be in the quarterback's face on a regular basis.
That being said, Pro Football Focus still has Dontari ranked as the #17 overall free agent available this year, and that's accounting for everyone that got tagged and/or signed a fancy new deal as of Wednesday night. As far as available defensive linemen go, there's only three guys ranked ahead of him - Arizona's Calais Campbell, Baltimore's Brandon Williams, and Washington's Chris Baker.
(Note: that doesn't count what PFF and most of the cool kids call "edge defenders", meaning 3-4 outside linebackers or 4-3 defensive ends.)
In any other year, this type of player would be the kind that someone is going to get all googley-eyed over and give a bank-breaking deal to on Day 1 of free agency, a la Damon Harrison's 5-year, $46,250,000.00 payday last season when he swapped green and white for blue and white by signing with the New York Giants. The only reason the Patriots might be in the mix for Poe is that he hasn't exactly played his best ball lately, and that could keep the price at a point where New England wouldn't instantly be like "Yeah, no, we're all set, thanks".
And, heck, it might not! My best guess is that Poe would end up as part of some kind of D-line rotation in New England - remember, besides Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, they're presumably still trying to work Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton in to see what they can do. Valentine, in particular, played 27.7% of New England's defensive snaps last year and picked up a sweet uptick in playing time after Thanksgiving. Even if Poe is notably better than the rookies, and he probably is, does he really represent any kind of upgrade over Branch and Brown? I'd have to say not really, unless he's 100% 2013 Dontari Poe, and that seems like a foolish bet to make unless he blows everyone away at a workout visit or something.
What do you guys think? Feel free to hash it out in the comments - and if you have an issue with Kansas City dubbing itself the barbecue capital of the world, that's fair game too.