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Patriots 2019 free agency profile: Danny Shelton could offer some cheap defensive line depth

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After one year in New England, Shelton is headed towards free agency.

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

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 week before the new league year officially is kicked off on March 13. Also over the next week, we will take a look at the 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 tackle Danny Shelton.

#71 Danny Shelton

2019 opening day age: 26

2018 playing time: 15 games (13 regular season + 2 postseason); 28.2% defensive snaps, 18.7% special teams snaps

2018 regular season statistics: 21 tackles; 1 quarterback hit, 4 quarterbacks hurries

2018 postseason statistics: 2 tackles

2018 cap number: $2.03 million

In early March 2018, New England sent a third-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to acquire Danny Shelton and a fifth-round selection. The move added another rotational piece to the Patriots’ defensive tackle group, while a) further allowing them to manage their workload of Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown, and b) giving the club flexibility when it came to the usage of its interior defensive linemen.

Consequently, Shelton’s role as an early down run-stuffer was very much based on New England’s opponents — especially later during the year: against one-dimensional teams focused on passing the football, the former first-round draft pick saw limited playing time or, as was the case in the AFC title game against the Kansas City Chiefs, was inactive altogether. Overall, though, Shelton had a solid but mostly uninspiring season as a role player in the Patriots’ defensive front.

Why should he be re-signed? In today’s pass-heavy NFL, that puts a premium on pass rushers, primary run-stoppers like Shelton are devalued. This, in turn, could help the Patriots retain the 25-year old on a relatively cost-effective deal. Furthermore, he was a contributor during the 2018 season and might be able to carve out a bigger role in year two with the club — especially in case fellow free agent Malcom Brown leaves.

Why should he be let go? As solid as Shelton was last year, his role and contributions to the defense will likely not be too hard to replace. New England might therefore opt to go after a defensive tackle in the draft: the defensive line features plenty of intriguing prospects this y year that could offer the same two-gapping ability as Shelton but cheaper, younger and with a higher ceiling.

Projection: Even though Shelton could offer some comparatively cheap defensive line depth, he leaves the Patriots after only one year to sign a contract worth around $3.0 to $4.0 million annually elsewhere. New England, meanwhile, brings in a veteran on a more cost-effective deal while also drafting a defensive tackle to add depth.