The New England Patriots have plenty of big names on their list of players about to enter unrestricted free agency next month, but two stand out among them: offensive tackle Trent Brown and defensive edge Trey Flowers are the world champion’s two most intriguing free agents-to-be. While the former has proven himself a capable starter at left tackle, the latter is one of the league’s most versatile and consistent defensive linemen.
Despite proven production against the run and the pass, versatility to play multiple techniques along the line and youth, however, one analyst — and the NFL’s all-time leader in postseason sacks — does not see Flowers as a top option as a pass rusher this offseason: Patriots Hall of Famer Willie McGinest, now working for NFL Network. McGinest recently listed the top 10 options worth pursuing this offseason, and Flowers is nowhere to be found:
1. DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas Cowboys)
2. LB Dee Ford (Kansas City Chiefs)
3. LB Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans)
4. LB Za’Darius Smith (Baltimore Ravens)
5. DE Frank Clark (Seattle Seahawks)
6. DT Sheldon Richardson (Minnesota Vikings)
7. DT Ndamukong Suh (Los Angeles Rams)
8. DE Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions)
9. LB Josh Allen (draft prospect)
10. DT Quinnen Williams (draft prospect)
Of course, not all ten of the players listed above will realistically become available this offseason: Dee Ford and Jadeveon Clowney are expected to receive the franchise tag from their respective teams, while Josh Allen and Quinnen Williams will likely get drafted too high for all teams to have an equal shot at them. Nevertheless, McGinest views all of them plus the six other men he lists as better pass rushing options than Trey Flowers this offseason.
And to be fair, the ex-Patriot does have a point — to a certain degree. After all, Flowers is lacking in one of the most important statistics: sacks. While he is one of the best players in the league at applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks, his sack total of 21.0 over the last three regular seasons (plus 5.5 in nine playoff games over that same span) is solid but not necessarily outstanding.
Will a team pony up $12+ million annually for this kind of production? That will be one of the most interesting stories to watch during free agency. But while Flowers does not fit the traditional edge rusher mold, he is still one of the best front seven defenders scheduled to hit the open market this season: as noted above, he can play almost anywhere on the line and is a terrific run defender on top of being an impactful pass rusher (even though his sack numbers may not fully reflect this).
But if teams view him like McGinest does, the 25-year old might make his way back to New England after all.