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NFL free agency profile: Michael Brockers could help improve the Patriots’ run defense

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Related: Free agency profile: Patriots could turn to Nick Vannett to add depth at tight end

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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 Michael Brockers.

Player profile

Position: Defensive tackle

Opening day age: 29

Size: 6’5, 305 lbs

Experience: Brockers entered the 2012 draft as one of the highest rated defensive linemen, and was subsequently selected 14th overall by the then-St. Louis Rams. He quickly established himself as a reliable and durable presence at the heart of the team’s defense and saw both his fifth-year option get picked up as a result and a three-year, $33.2 million contract extension come his way. Brockers continued to play solid football, but he never turned into a true game-changer like his teammate Aaron Donald.

2019 statistics: 16 games; 36 quarterback pressures (4.0 sacks, 7 hits, 25 hurries); 58 tackles

2019 salary cap hit: $10.75 million

Free agency status: Unrestricted

View from Los Angeles

We asked Kenneth Arthur from Turf Show Times to share his thoughts on Brockers:

Brockers has been a consistent bet for three sacks per season during his eight-year career with the Rams, which started with him as the 14th overall pick in 2012. He had 9.5 sacks during his first two seasons, then that part of his game became overshadowed by the largest tree in the game: Aaron Donald, who the Rams selected 13th overall in 2014. On one hand, Brockers is a very good defensive tackle. On the other, he’s been shifted around and somewhat forgotten because of the massive presence that is Donald.

What is a veteran Brockers without Donald? That’s hard to say until we see it over the course of a full season, but I think he’d be more than adequate overall, though his real value is in run defense. The truth is that run-stopping defensive tackles are the running backs of the defense and there’s no reason to move a mountain to acquire one. Even a good one. Given LA’s financial situation and that they do have free agents like Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, and Greg Zuerlein, I don’t expect Brockers to be a high enough priority to be kept off of free agency. He seems to get that, as he already said “Goodbye.”

Patriots fit

The Patriots finished the 2019 season as the top scoring unit in the NFL, in large part due to the outstanding play of their pass defense. New England’s run defense had some more ups and downs, on the other hand, with the losses against Baltimore and Tennessee standing out. To upgrade the unit and get stouter against opposing ground attacks, the team might therefore decide to take a look at Brockers as a potential replacement for Danny Shelton.

While the two former first-round draft picks are differently built and not the same types of defensive tackles — Shelton is more of a 0-technique nose, Brockers a 3- and 5-technique end — their fortes are the same: run defense. And with Brockers having moved all over the interior defensive line in St. Louis and Los Angeles, the Patriots might see him as a potential piece to help replace or at least challenge Shelton and help upgrade the position outside of Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler.

So what would Brockers’ hypothetical role in New England look like? Given his experience and versatility, it would not be surprising if the Patriots would use him in a variety of roles depending on the game plans and situations: he could line up as an end in three-man fronts or as a 3-technique tackle if the defense switches to looks with four down-linemen. Either way, he would see considerable action as a presence against the run with upside in the passing game as well.

Verdict

Brockers would be an experienced addition to New England’s defensive front, but the main question — as with all free agents — is return on investment. Given that his strengths lie primarily in the running game and that he posted only comparatively modest pass-rushing results despite playing alongside Aaron Donald, however, the 29-year-old is not expected to command top dollar on the open market.

He could therefore very well fall into the Patriots’ price range despite his status as a former first-round draft pick, and be picked up as a player similar to Lawrence Guy: a stout two-gapper capable of playing multiple techniques as a top-three interior defensive lineman on the roster. Brockers would not be a flashy addition, and none at all if he is looking to be paid like he was in Los Angeles, but a solid rotational piece worth taking a closer look at.