The New England Patriots’ 2019 season came to a premature end when the team was eliminated in the wild card round of the playoffs. In order to return to the top of the NFL mountain, the organization will therefore have to turn the page and build a competitive roster to get back into a position again to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. A big part of building that roster is successfully maneuvering through free agency.
If judged by the list of free agents to be, New England’s front office will be busy over the next few days before the new league year and free agency are officially kicked off on March 18. Also over the next few days, we will take a look at each individual position on the Patriots’ current roster to find out which players are headed for the open market, whether or not they should be expected back, and who might be brought in from the outside.
Today, the series continues with the defensive edge positions.
Current position group
Under contract: John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Tashawn Bower
Free agents: Kyle Van Noy (UFA), Shilique Calhoun (UFA), Keionta Davis (ERFA)
Free agency profile: Kyle Van Noy
Opening day age: 29
2019 salary cap hit: $6.29 million
2019 statistics: 16 games; 51.5 quarterback pressures (7.5 sacks, 18 hits, 26 hurries); 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive touchdown, 6 run stuffs; 52 tackles (6 missed tackles)
Experience: Van Noy entered the NFL as a second-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2014, but was never able to carve out a consistent role before getting traded to the Patriots midway through the 2016 season. In New England, he flourished: Van Noy did not only help the team win two Super Bowls, he also established himself as a team leader and a reliable defender capable of lining up all over the formation and making impact plays both in the passing game and against the run. All in all, he appeared in 62 games for the team.
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.
Shortly after the Patriots’ 2019 season came to an end on wild card weekend, Van Noy openly pointed out that he would be looking to “get paid a lot” during his upcoming free agency. The expectation is that he will generate an active market, so it would not be a surprise to see him command top dollar as one of the better edge defenders available in free agency. If that happens, New England will likely have to wave goodbye to its versatile starting outside linebacker.
After all, the Patriots have limited resources to spend on other priority free agents — quarterback Tom Brady and safety Devin McCourty are topping the list — and might therefore 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.
Free agency profile: Shilique Calhoun
Opening day age: 28
2019 salary cap hit: $720,000
2019 statistics: 16 games; 1 quarterback pressures (4 hits, 7 hurries); 1 forced fumble; 10 tackles (3 missed tackles)
Experience: The then-Oakland Raiders drafted Calhoun in the third round in 2016, but his first year in the league ended on injured reserve after just 10 games. He bounced between the team’s active roster and practice squad over the next two seasons before again being placed on IR in 2018. The following offseason, Calhoun was signed as a free agent by the Patriots and was able to make the team’s roster as a rotational option at the defensive edge and in the kicking game.
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.
Calhoun was on the field for one-fourth of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in 2019 (268 of 1,070; 25%) and also saw considerable action in the kicking game: only six members of the team’s special teams operation played more than his 238 snaps (of 474; 50.2%). New England therefore bringing him back to a) ensure stability along the defensive edge and in the kicking game, and b) hope for some growth in year two would not be a surprise. The main question, however, will be money: if other teams value Calhoun at a higher price than the Patriots do, he is a likely goner given the team’s relative financial inflexibility.
Free agency profile: Keionta Davis
Opening day age: 25
2019 salary cap hit: $122,400
2019 statistics: Spent entire season on injured reserve
Experience: New England signed Davis as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he had to spend his entire rookie season on the sidelines due to a neck injury that was diagnosed at the scouting combine. Davis returned to the field in 2018 and appeared in six games as a rotational edge rusher, but he failed to build on his momentum heading into his third year in the system: the Patriots waived him with an injury designation in August and he eventually reverted to season-ending injured reserve.
Contract status: Set to enter exclusive rights free agency on March 18.
If the Patriots believe that Davis can contribute after playing in just six games over his first three seasons, and carve out a role with Van Noy and Calhoun potential free agency departures, they will extend an offer sheet. But even though they are the only team allowed to do so — hence the “exclusive” free agency tag — the 25-year-old returning in 2020 is far from a guarantee given his extensive injury history and limited production when on the field.
Outside free agents
Kamalei Correa, Tennessee Titans (UFA): A former second-round draft pick that had a limited impact in Baltimore but was solid as an outside linebacker in Tennessee, Correa is coming off the best season of his career. But while he registered 6.0 sacks in 2019, his best usage might be in a rotational role — something New England would offer.
Vinny Curry, Philadelphia Eagles (UFA): Even though Curry will turn 32 this summer, he can still be a productive player as he showed during his return to Philadelphia in 2019: appearing in all 16 of the team’s games, he finished with 5.0 sacks and also looked stout setting the edge in the running game. His experience may make him an attractive option as a situational defender.
Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens (UFA): If the Patriots want to go as high as the second tier of pass rushers — those not named Jadeveon Clowney or Shaquil Barrett — Judon might be the best player available for them. The 27-year-old brings steady production as a pass rusher to the table and is also solid when it comes to run defense. While not as versatile as Van Noy, he still has tremendous upside.
Shaq Lawson, Buffalo Bills (UFA): The former first-round draft pick will hit free agency after Buffalo declined the fifth-year option, and he will likely not break the bank dispute his intriguing athletic profile. After all, Lawson was inconsistent over his last four years. A change of scenery, however, might help him get his career back on track.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UFA): Pierre-Paul may no longer be the star edge rusher he was in New York, but he can still offer steady production in this area: since joining the Buccaneers two years ago, he registered 21.0 sacks. The 31-year-old also is an underrated run defender who knows how to set a firm edge.
Robert Quinn, Dallas Cowboys (UFA): Quinn is better suited to be used as a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and not as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but his experience and consistent production particularly against the pass are still positive attributes. The 29-year-old certainly can help teams put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Jabaal Sheard, Indianapolis Colts (UFA): Sheard is a familiar face in New England, after spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Patriots. Since then, he was with the Colts in a role not unlike the one he had in Foxborough: the former second-round draft pick was used as a rotational edge defender against both the pass and the run. Turning 31 in May, he will likely be comparatively cheap considering that he can still offer quality play.
Noah Spence, New Orleans Saints (UFA): Despite his status as a former second-round draft pick and a solid rookie season, Spence has failed to find a consistent home in the NFL. He started his career in Tampa Bay in 2016 and eventually landed in New Orleans last December via Washington. The 26-year-old would be a reclamation project more than anything.
The Patriots have some solid talent along their defensive edge with Chase Winovich a prime candidate to make the famed second-year jump and John Simon a solid all-around defender. That being said, some reinforcements might be necessary if Kyle Van Noy — as is expected at this point in time — leaves New England for greener pastures elsewhere. He was the team’s most consistent outside linebacker, after all, and led the club in quarterback pressures and big plays from the outside.
If the club wants to take to the open market to bolster the depth alongside Winovich and Simon — and, possibly, players such as Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun — lower-cost options such as Kamalei Correa or ex-Patriot Jabaal Sheard seem to make sense. All in all, the free agency defensive edge class is a deep one this year and New England can get a solid bang for its buck even when not going after the Jadeveon Clowneys, Shaquil Barretts and Yannick Ngakoues of the world.