With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the focus is now entirely on 2020. The next important point on the offseason agenda will be free agency, which starts on March 18 and projects to be a big one for the New England Patriots: not only does the team have 19 players whose current contracts will expire — including quarterback Tom Brady — it also will need to use its limited resources to build a foundation for the upcoming season.
Up until the start of free agency, we will therefore take a look at some players who might interest the Patriots. Today, the series continues with defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.
Position: Defensive tackle
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6’2, 330 lbs
Experience: A first-round draft pick in 2013, Williams was a core member of the defense that helped the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50. Despite that, however, the team did not retain him after the conclusion of his four-year rookie deal in 2017. Williams therefore joined the Tennessee Titans with whom he played just 15 games before being released. After stints in Detroit, Miami and New Orleans, he finally found his way to the Los Angeles Chargers where he appeared in five games during the 2019 regular season.
2019 statistics: 5 games; 1 quarterback pressure (1 hurry); 6 tackles (1 missed tackle)
2019 salary cap hit: $379,412
Free agency status: Unrestricted
View from Los Angeles
We asked Michael Peterson from Bolts From The Blue to share his thoughts on Williams:
I don’t have a ton to say about Williams other than he was a decent rotation player for the Bolts down the stretch for the Chargers. He was better at stopping the run compared to their rookie DT Jerry Tillery which is why he was active over Tillery for a few of their last games. He’s played for a number of team in his career and it’s likely he will be playing for a new one come September as the Chargers will likely invest in another interior linemen in the draft while supporting Tillery in his second year with the team.
With Danny Shelton an unrestricted free agent, the Patriots might want to look for a contingency plan to help replace his production as a run-first interior defensive lineman in case he leaves town. Williams would be just that if signed by New England: a big-bodied tackle capable of occupying opposing blockers in the team’s two-gap scheme, that will likely be available at a minimal cost after moving around the league multiple times recently.
The 31-year-old would of course only be a rotational option alongside Lawrence Guy, restricted free agent Adam Butler and second-year man Byron Cowart, and likely not even a lock to make the team. In this sense, he would be similar to Mike Pennel last year: the Patriots signed Pennel to a reasonable deal last offseason but he was outplayed by Shelton over the course of the offseason and ultimately released before roster cutdown day.
If signed by the Patriots, Williams would essentially be this year’s Mike Pennel — a player certainly capable of making the team as a rotational early-down option to help shore up what was an up-and-down run defense in 2019, but not one that should necessarily be counted on to become a core defender in 2020.
The Patriots have never shied away from signing veteran players to cheap contracts — think Terrence Knighton in 2016 — with the goal of having them compete in training camp. Williams would fall into that category as well, if New England’s front office decides he would be worth bringing in as a depth defensive tackle. A lot depends on the aforementioned Danny Shelton, however: if Shelton returns, the Patriots might not feel the need to invest in another rather one-dimensional lineman; if not, Williams would be a cheap and experienced replacement.