The New England Patriots ended the 2018 season in the best possible way, by defeating the Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl 53. In order to stay on top of the NFL mountain, though, the organization will have to quickly turn the page to get itself into a position to create the best possible team for the 2019 season. And a big part of building such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency.
If judged by the list of free agents to be, New England’s front office will be busy over the next few weeks before the new league year officially is kicked off on March 13. Also over the next few weeks, we will take a look at those free agents-to-be to find out who may or may not get re-signed by the Patriots; and who should be a part of the 2019 squad. Today, we’ll continue the series with defensive edge Trey Flowers.
#98 DE Trey Flowers
2019 opening day age: 26
2018 playing time: 18 games (15 regular season + 3 playoffs); 72.9% defensive snaps
2018 statistics: 63 tackles; 9.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, 38 quarterback hurries; 3 forced fumbles; 9 stuffed runs
2018 cap number: $2.05 million
Trey Flowers is entering free agency coming off the best season of his four-year career. The former fourth-round draft pick was outstanding as a run defender in 2018 and also an impact player against the pass despite a comparatively low total number of sacks. All in all, he once again led the Patriots in combined quarterback pressures (76.5) and ranked second in the NFL in the same statistic for primary edge rushers.
Flowers’ usage, however, goes beyond that of a classic pass rusher and edge setter in the running game. New England likes to move him around the line of scrimmage to create favorable matchups not just for him but also the rest of the front-line players: he plays virtually every technique along the line and rarely seems to be out of place. As a result, he finished the 2018 season as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked edge defender — and number three free agent-to-be.
Why should he be re-signed? As noted above, one of Flowers’ biggest traits is his versatility: he can line up all over the line depending on the situation and produce out of every technique he is asked to play. The 25-year old also is as reliable a player as they come. Flowers did miss one game in 2018 due to a concussion (week three against the Detroit Lions), yes, but he still played nearly three-fourths of New England’s defensive snaps on the year.
Flowers is furthermore one of the most experienced players in the Patriots’ front seven, and its most productive member: he leads the team in every major pressure category over the last three seasons and has gotten better each year. Replacing a player of this caliber — one that is only about to hit his prime — would be tough for any team, especially a New England squad that has plenty of uncertainty along its defensive edge.
Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adrian Clayborn have yet to show the same level of consistency as Flowers, while Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis and Ufomba Kamalu are wildcards at this point in their careers. Keeping Flowers — even though it will be a cost-intensive experience — would be the Patriots’ best move from an overall depth and talent perspective, let alone the experience and leadership factor.
Why should he be let go? Considering all that Flowers brings to the table, there is only one realistic reason why New England should let him go: if he hits the open market and the price gets inflated beyond the Patriots’ price range. With the team currently having around $17.91 million in available salary cap space, the club appears to be at a disadvantage compared to others like the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets — teams with more financial resources available. If they push the price out of New England’s comfort zone, the club should and will part ways with Flowers.
Projection: Unless his camp and the Patriots come to an agreement over the next three weeks, or he gets hit with the franchise tag — a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract projected to be worth around $18.7 million — Trey Flowers will likely hit the open market on March 13. And when that happens, everything is possible considering that Flowers is not a traditional pass rusher in the mold of ex-Patriot Chandler Jones. He is, however, one of the most versatile and consistent front-line defenders in the NFL.
But depending on how his market develops, it would still not be that big of a surprise if the Patriots were able to retain Flowers on a contract paying him around $11 to $13 million per year. This would still make him a top-20 edge defender in the league in terms of annual contract value, while simultaneously reflecting his importance for New England: Flowers would become one of the team’s top five highest-paid players.