Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.
All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.
Name: Shilique Calhoun
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 90
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-4, 260 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? A three-time second-team All-American during his time at Michigan State, Calhoun arrived in the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the then-Oakland Raiders in 2016. His professional career was off to a rocky start: while he served a prominent role on special teams, Calhoun was used only as a depth option on the defensive side of the ball during his first 10 games. To make matters worse, the Raiders were forced to send him to season-ending injured reserve after he hurt his knee in late November.
The next two years did not go much better. Sharing time between the active roster, practice squad and injured reserve, Calhoun appeared in only 16 combined games over the course of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He also continued to be employed only as a rotational piece on defense and saw most of his action in the kicking game. While Oakland did decide to keep the exclusive rights free agent for the 2018 season, he was not brought back in 2019.
Calhoun eventually arrived in New England, and went on to appear in 26 games for the club over the next two seasons. While not becoming a major contributor, he did bounce back after a disappointing stint with the Raiders and proved himself a valuable rotational player for the Patriots both on defense and in the kicking game.
What did his 2020 season look like? Calhoun entered unrestricted free agency following his first year in New England and had to spend six days on the open market before signing a new deal. In the end, he returned to the Patriots on another one-year pact — one that gave him an opportunity to compete for a rotational role at an outside linebacker position that had lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency.
The veteran indeed was able to carve out a role at the position alongside John Simon and Chase Winovich, and saw regular snaps over the first half of the season as a situational pass rusher. Unfortunately, a knee injury changed the course of his second year as a Patriot: after being listed on the injury report for two weeks and seeing only limited action as a result, Calhoun was sent to injured reserve in mid-November. He was reactivated a month later, but had only a limited impact following his return.
The 28-year-old therefore finished the season with just 10 in-game appearances ass well as 256 defensive snaps (of 1,017; 25.2%). When on the field, he did have a solid impact for the Patriots’ front seven: Calhoun registered 11 quarterback pressures — 2.0 sacks, 4 hits, 5 hurries — and also forced a pair of fumbles. He furthermore played 91 snaps on special teams (of 397; 22.9%) as a member of both return units and the punt coverage squad; he was also employed on the place kick blocking team.
All in all, Calhoun’s 2020 season can best be summed up as an up-and-down experience. He did contribute when healthy and showed his upside as a package-specific defender, but his mid-season knee ailment hurt his chances of becoming a bigger factor at linebacker and in the kicking game.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? As noted above, Calhoun joined the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Raiders. He played only one season on his original four-year, $3.3 million rookie contract, however, and signed a series of lower-level deals with the organization between 2017 and 2018. Since arriving in New England, he has played on two separate one-year pacts: the first was valued at $720,000, the second at $1.5 million. All in all, Calhoun is estimated by Over the Cap to have earned around $4.5 million so far in his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Even though Calhoun will likely not be a priority free agent once he enters the open market, some teams in need of depth along the defensive edge might still be in the running. The Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans are all listed among the teams possibly in the market for a player like Calhoun by Pro Football Focus.
Why should he be expected back? Calhoun played some solid football over the first half of the 2020 season, and showed that he can be a contributor in the Patriots’ scheme in a situational role. Considering that, and given the fact that the team has no established edge linebacker options under contract for next year outside of Chase Winovich and Josh Uche, bringing an experienced player likely not commanding top dollar back would make sense.
Why should he be expected to leave? Already turning 29 next month, Calhoun has been serviceable during his five seasons in the NFL but little more. This, plus an injury history that includes three trips to injured reserve in five years, might lead to the Patriots looking elsewhere to bolster their defensive edge: other players — be they rookies or free agency signings — could possibly offer the same production at a lower cost and with higher upside.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Bringing players like Calhoun back into the fold might not be flashy, but they do have value as depth options bolstering the roster’s middle class. Accordingly, there is a realistic chance the Patriots bring him back on another one-year deal with limited guarantees. This would allow Calhoun to get another chance to earn a spot on the team, while New England would keep an experienced player to solidify the depth around Winovich, Uche and potential offseason additions.