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Patriots 2021 offseason preview: New England’s defensive edge a mix of potential and uncertainty

Related: Patriots offseason preview: New England has some work to do along its interior D-line

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with four teams left standing, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: after not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the 7-9 squad has a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins.

With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue things at the defensive edge.

Rashod Berry

Age: 24

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Berry has a salary cap hit of $780,000 in 2021.

2020 review: Berry joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent after having played both tight end and outside linebacker at Ohio State. New England used him exclusively in the latter role during his rookie campaign, and did get some positive contributions out of him in the form of two quarterback disruptions. All in all, Berry appeared in two games as a practice squad elevatee and in a third after getting promoted to the 53-man roster in early January.

2021 preview: Even though he saw only limited action in 2020, Berry projects to get another shot at cracking the edge rotation in Year Two. Any potential offseason acquisitions as well as his personal growth as an outside linebacker, however, will determine how the chances of carving out a regular role in New England’s front seven will look like for the 24-year-old.

Tashawn Bower

Age: 25

Experience: 4

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Bower has a salary cap hit of $920,000 in 2021.

2020 review: Returning to New England on a futures contract after the 2019 season, Bower started his first full year with the team on its practice squad. After getting called up twice to the game day roster as a standard elevation, he was eventually signed to the 53-man roster in early November. Bower finished the season with seven in-game appearances as well as seven quarterback pressures, but was eventually sent to injured reserve in December due to neck and concussion injuries.

2021 preview: Bower did have some encouraging moments in 2020, but does not project to be much more than a depth option for the team moving forward. Whether or not he can even earn that role will depend on his abilities to a) stay healthy, and b) take advantage of his opportunities in practice. If he can do both, he might earn a spot on the team as a rotational third/fourth option. If the team is less confident about his development, however, he might not even make it to training camp.

Shilique Calhoun

Age: 28

Experience: 5

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: Calhoun re-signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in March and made the opening day roster as the number three outside linebacker behind John Simon and Chase Winovich. In this role, he appeared in the team’s first eight games of the season while being used in a versatile role on both defense and special teams. Along the way, the former third-round draft pick also registered a pair of sacks.

However, a knee ailment that bothered him for much of the early season eventually forced New England to send him to injured reserve in mid-November. Calhoun returned for the Patriots’ Week 15 and Week 17 games against Miami and New York, but saw only limited action along the way.

2021 preview: As was the case last year, Calhoun will likely not break the bank in free agency. While a team might identify him as an experienced rotational piece worth bringing aboard, chances are that the Patriots could bring him back on a relatively cost-effective deal if they so choose. A lot will depend on any other moves being made at the move and outside linebacker corps, and the projection for youngsters Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.

John Simon

Age: 30

Experience: 8

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: With Kyle Van Noy having left the Patriots in free agency, John Simon took over the number one role at the outside linebacker position. But while the veteran defender did see plenty of snaps during his 16 in-game appearances, he also had his fair share of ups and downs: Simon notched only two sacks and 17 combined quarterback disruptions, was inconsequential in coverage, and had his issues setting a consistent edge in the running game.

New England’s lack of other reliable options resulted in Simon still seeing a hefty workload week-in and week-out, but he failed to prove himself capable of making game-changing plays in the defense’s favor.

2021 preview: Simon was a reliable outside linebacker over his first two seasons as a Patriot, but his issues in 2020 and impending free agency could lead to him having played his last down with the team. New England investing a pair of Day Two picks in linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings during last year’s draft also does not help his case. That said, his experience might be seen as valuable and could eventually lead to the team bringing him back on a cheap contract and with a smaller role in mind.

Josh Uche

Age: 22

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Uche has a salary cap hit of $1.22 million in 2021.

2020 review: The Patriots traded two third-round picks to Baltimore in order to move into the 60th overall slot and select Josh Uche out of Michigan. During his rookie season, one could see why New England felt confident making the trade: Uche showed his disruptive skills time and again — he finished the season with 17 quarterback pressures in just 99 pass rushing snaps — and also was trusted with playing not just on the edge but off the ball as well.

The main issue for him in 2020 actually was his inability to stay healthy. Uche played just nine snaps after starting the season on injured reserve (ankle), and later had to be sent to IR again to end his first year as a pro (foot). Still, his potential was on full display whenever he was ready to take the field.

2021 preview: As is the case with other players on New England’s roster, Uche’s health will be a determining factor when it comes to his role on the team in 2021. If able to stay mostly healthy, however, he should earn a prominent role as a potential move linebacker in the mold of ex-Patriots Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins: Uche can play both on the edge and off the ball, and more experience in both areas should help him turn into an every-down player. At the very least, he should be able to serve an efficient rotational pass rusher again.

Chase Winovich

Age: 25

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Winovich has a salary cap hit of $1.1 million in 2021.

2020 review: Chase Winovich’s second season in the NFL was a rollercoaster. He started the year off strong, saw only limited opportunities in the season’s second quarter, and later rebounded to stake his claim as the Patriots’ top option at the defensive edge. All in all, the former third-round draft investment appeared in all 16 of New England’s games and finished as the team’s most disruptive pass rusher: Winovich notched 56.5 quarterback pressures, including 5.5 sacks.

Even though he still needs to get better at setting the edge versus the run and truly showing his abilities as an every-down defender, the 2020 season was a step in the right direction for the 25-year-old.

2021 preview: With John Simon no lock to return in free agency, and with the positive development of the other outside linebackers currently under contract an uncertainty, Winovich is a realistic candidate to take over the number one role at the position in 2021. Together with fellow ex-Wolverine Josh Uche, he could form a potent duo but also needs to get more consistent especially when it comes to funneling run plays into the middle.

That said, Winovich does have the tools of a player worth building around. He is one of just a few members of the Patriots’ current defensive roster — Uche, J.C. Jackson and Kyle Dugger are the others — falling under this category.