Earlier today, the New England Patriots released linebacker Shea McClellin with a failed physical designation. The former first round draft pick who joined the team via trade from the Chicago Bears before the 2016 season, missed all of last year after a string of concussions forced him onto season-ending injured reserve. While the move creates $1.72 million in salary cap space, it also further weakens New England's linebacker depth.
Let's reset the position's depth chart with McClellin now gone:
Kyle Van Noy
Even though Van Noy had a solid 2017 season as New England's defensive signal caller and number one linebacker, a look at the group above shows that the team needs to talented depth to the position: Not only are two of the five linebackers currently under contract – Hightower and Langi – coming off injury-related reserve lists, Grigsby is primarily a special teams player while Roberts took a step back during his second NFL season.
New England does have an experienced and solid one-two punch at the position, though, with Hightower as an every-down defender and Van Noy the second option alongside him. However, given the former's injury history, a better group of depth players than the current one is desperately needed behind the duo. McClellin was supposed to be part of that but his release quickly ended this thought.
And unless the team strongly believes that Roberts can bounce back from a bad 2017 campaign or that Langi will get his career back on track after a car crash ended his rookie year, outside reinforcements are needed – whether in the form of free agent Marquis Flowers, trade or other free agency pickups, or draft picks. No matter which way the Patriots opt to go, one thing is certain: Improving the linebacker depth has to be a priority.