While free agency is still four days away, the New England Patriots are already busy. Between player releases and picking up contract options, the team also made a trade with the Cleveland Brown to acquire former first-round defensive tackle Danny Shelton. The 24-year old adds depth to the Patriots’ defensive line at relatively little cost. Let’s take a closer look at what the move means for the team.
New England adds to its defensive tackle depth chart
With the de-facto release of Alan Branch on the horizon and Ricky Jean Francois’ announcement that he will not return, the Patriots needed to add another player to the defensive tackle rotation. Shelton – a 6'2, 340 lbs run-stuffer – will be just that and join a rotation that also includes Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy. Shelton should help reduce the snap counts of both Brown and Guy and as a result help keep the interior defenders fresh.
New England adds to its 2018 draft capital
The Patriots traded a 2019 third round selection to the Browns for Shelton and a fifth round pick this year. New England therefore adds another draft choice to its capital, which was tied for the worst in the league just earlier today. The team now owns the following seven picks:
Round one: #31
Round two: #43 (via San Francisco)
Round two: #63
Round three: #95
Round four: #136 (compensatory selection)
Round five: #138 or #159 (via Cleveland)
Round six: #205
The Patriots previously did not own a fifth round selection, while the Browns owned a pair of them. One of the two picks will be sent to New England – it remains to be seen which one.
The Patriots lose relatively little cap space...
While Shelton was on the Browns' book with $3.72 million for the upcoming season, the 12th overall pick of the 2014 draft will cost New England only $2.03 million as the signing bonus proration is still Cleveland's burden to bear. As a result of the Patriots taking on the defensive tackle's salary, the team's available salary cap has now shrunk to $21.20 million, according to patscap.com's Miguel Benzan.
...and could use the fifth-year option in 2019
With Shelton being selected in the first round four years ago, the Patriots have the chance to use the fifth-round option on him next year. While the ultimate cost of the option has not yet been finalized, it is expected to be roughly $7.0 million in 2019. New England has until May 3 to make a decision on Shelton – and on fellow 2014 first rounders Malcom Brown and Phillip Dorsett. If the team decides not to exercise the option, the defensive tackle becomes part of the compensatory draft picks formula.
The interior pass rush is still a need
As noted above, Shelton is more of an early down option at the defensive tackle position and should be most effective against the run given his size and the relatively limited mobility he displayed in Cleveland. Consequently, the Patriots still appear to be in the market to acquire a lineman to rush the passer form the 0-tech, 1-tech and 3-tech spots. Will it be second-year defender Adam Butler? A free agency signee? A draft pick? The next weeks will give us clarity about New England's plans.