While the NFL playoffs are still underway with four teams left standing, the New England Patriots will have to set their sights on the season to come: after being eliminated from the postseason on wild card weekend, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the AFC East champions have a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins on March 18.
With that being said, let’s break down where the team stands at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue with the interior defensive line where the Patriots have seven players currently (still) under contract.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Bower has a salary cap hit of $705,000 in 2020.
2019 review: Following an Achilles injury in the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings placed Bower on their non-football injury list in July before eventually releasing him off it again in mid-October. The former undrafted free agent subsequently spent one month on the open market before the Patriots signed him to their practice squad, where he finished the season.
2020 preview: After New England’s season came to an end, Bower signed a reserve/futures contract with the team. A year removed from his Achilles tear, he will therefore have a chance to compete for a roster spot during the offseason.
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.
2019 review: New England picked the former third-round draft pick up relatively late — he was signed on May 2 — but he still carved out a role during training camp and eventually made the 53-man roster. Calhoun went on to appear in 16 of the Patriots’ 17 games this season and was on the field for one-fourth of the team’s defensive snaps (268 of 1,070; 25%) as a situational pass rusher. The 27-year-old also saw considerable action in the kicking game: only six members of the special teams operation played more than his 238 snaps (of 474; 50.2%).
2020 preview: Calhoun is entering free agency coming off arguably the best season of his four-year career. Whether this generates a market for him remains to be seen, but it would not be a surprise to see New England bring him back on a cheap contract due to his experience on defense and special teams.
Contract status: Set to enter exclusive rights free agency on March 18.
2019 review: After appearing in six games in 2018 — his first year back from a neck injury that cost him his rookie campaign — Davis’ third season in the NFL ended before it even began: the Patriots waived him with an injury designation in August and he eventually reverted to season-ending injured reserve.
2020 preview: If the Patriots believe that Davis can contribute and carve out a role with other edge players being question marks heading into 2020, they will extend an offer sheet (they are the only team allowed to do so, hence the “exclusive” tag). Given that the 25-year-old spent two of his first three seasons in the NFL on the sidelines, however, the two sides parting ways would also not qualify as a surprise.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Rivers has a salary cap hit of $974,724 in 2020.
2019 review: Coming off his first full NFL season — he missed his rookie campaign because of a season-ending ACL injury — Rivers had his moments during last year’s training camp and saw considerable action with the starting defense. An undisclosed injury suffered in the second preseason game, however, derailed his 2019 season and forced the Patriots to place him on injured reserve yet again.
2020 preview: Entering the final year of his contract, Rivers is in a make-or-break situation: unless he proves his value to the team and his longevity as an edge defender, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots eventually move on from him. While he is expected to get the entire summer to fight for a job, the former third-round draft pick is facing an uphill climb.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Simon has a salary cap hit of $2.38 million in 2020.
2019 review: The Patriots and Simon agreed to a two-year contract extension in March and he went on to play an integral role at the team’s defensive edge in 2019: the 29-year-old appeared in all 17 of New England’s games and served as the number two outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid in terms of playing time. As such, he registered 19 quarterback pressures and also was generally stout as an edge-setter in the running game.
2020 preview: Given his prominent role the last two years and his comparatively small salary cap hit of $2.38 million, Simon is close to a roster lock heading into the new season. While not the flashiest player, the veteran defender has proven himself a consistent and durable presence on the edge and will again serve as a core member of the rotation in 2020.
Kyle Van Noy
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.
2019 review: All year long, Van Noy was a playmaker for the Patriots defense. Lining up primarily at outside linebacker/defensive end, the veteran was on the field for 16 of the team’s 17 games in 2019 and led the front-seven with a playing time share of 81.9% (876 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps).
He also was New England’s most productive pass rusher and finished the season with a team-high 7.5 sacks while also registering 18 quarterback hits and an additional 26 hurries. Furthermore, Van Noy forced four fumbles and recovered two — one of which he returned for a touchdown. Add it all up and you get a core defender that served as a tone-setter for the entire defense and one of its most valuable members on and off the field.
2020 preview: Van Noy already pointed out that he would be looking to “get paid a lot,” which might limit his chances of returning to New England: the Patriots have limited resources to spend on other priority free agents — quarterback Tom Brady topping the list — and might not be able to compete with other teams for the 28-year-old’s services. Unless he opts to take a major hometown discount to contradict his prior statement, Patriots fans might have to get used to seeing Van Noy wear a different uniform in 2020.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Winovich has a salary cap hit of $930,328 in 2020.
2019 review: A third-round draft pick out of Michigan, Winovich looked very good in his first year in the NFL and might have a serious case as the Patriots’ rookie of the year. Not only did he appear in all 17 of the team’s games as a rotational pass rusher and core special teamer, he also finished the season with 24.5 quarterback pressures and a touchdown: in Week 6 against the New York Giants, Winovich recovered a blocked punt and returned it to the end zone for a score. It was one of numerous highlight-reel plays by the youngster.
2020 preview: With the status of other edge defenders in question either because of their contracts (Kyle Van Noy, Shilique Calhoun) or injury histories (Derek Rivers, Deionta Davis), Winovich might be asked to increase his workload in 2020 to become an even bigger part of New England’s defense. Given how well he adapted to life as a pro, it would not be a surprise to see him take that next challenge in stride and take the famous second-year jump.