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Patriots 2021 free agency profile: Keeping Lawrence Guy has to be a priority for New England

Related: Patriots free agency profile: K Nick Folk

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NFL: OCT 25 49ers at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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 defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.

Hard facts

Name: Lawrence Guy

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 93

Opening day age: 31

Size: 6-foot-4, 315 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Experience

What is his experience? After starting 31 games at Arizona State, Guy entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2011. However, he never actually appeared in a game for the team: he spent his rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in training camp, and started 2012 on the Packers’ practice squad before being signed off of it by the Indianapolis Colts. Guy went on to appear in 12 games for the Colts before getting released the following season.

The then-San Diego Chargers claimed him off the waiver wire, and he went on to appear in 15 games for them between the 2013 and the 2014 seasons. That said, his tenure in San Diego was also not meant to last: the team parted ways with him early during his second year, allowing the Baltimore Ravens to claim him in September 2014. From that point on, Guy’s career found some stability as he spent two-and-a-half seasons in Baltimore and appeared in a combined 45 regular season and postseason games.

In 2017, he took the next step in his development. Since signing a four-year, $14.4 million free agency contract with the Patriots, Guy played in 62 regular season contests and seven playoff games for the team. A core member of New England’s defense, he earned a Super Bowl ring to cap the 2018 season and also was named to the organization’s Team of the 2010s. All in all, he is entering the open market again with an impressive résumé to look back on that includes 141 total in-game appearances and one championship.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off another impressive season, Guy was a lock to return to the Patriots’ interior defensive line in 2020 and to play a vital role within the team’s defensive front seven both against the run and the pass. As such, he delivered another quality season — all while seeing a heavy workload again and serving as a top-four player at the defensive tackle position alongside Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise Jr. and, to a lesser degree, Byron Cowart.

In this role, Guy was on the field for 14 of the Patriots’ 16 games last season. While he did miss two games because of a nagging shoulder injury — Week 9 at the New York Jets, Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills — the veteran again was a reliable presence up front for the team: he finished the year with a playing time share of 49.5 percent after being on the field for 503 of a possible 1,017 defensive snaps. Only fellow interior defensive lineman Wise Jr, who played 55.6 percent of snaps, saw more action at the position.

Despite his comparatively heavy exposure, Guy again played some quality football while also serving as a team captain for the first time in his career. In total, he registered 51 tackles in the running game, had 18 combined quarterback pressures — including a pair of sacks — and also registered a fumble recovery. While he likely would have benefitted from better talent around him especially at the nose position that remained very much vacant throughout the year, Guy proved his value to New England’s defense once again.

While that remained the same compared to his first three years since joining the team, there was one change for Guy: his special teams opportunities were limited. After being on the field for 37.3 percent of kicking game snaps in 2019, the Patriots used him on just 14.9 percent in 2020 (59 of 397). His two-game absence contributed to the lower output, but so probably did the shoulder injury that bothered him for much of the season. It looks as if New England wanted to preserve him as best as possible all year.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? When Guy was drafted by the Packers he signed a standard four-year rookie pact worth $2.1 million. Through the years that followed, he signed multiple other contracts in Indianapolis, San Diego and Baltimore before the first big payday of his career: as mentioned above, he joined the Patriots on a four-year, $14.4 million free agency deal. His total career earnings are therefore estimated at $20.7 million, according to Over the Cap.

Which teams might be in the running? Guy’s experience, leadership and productivity over the last four years will likely make him a popular target for teams in need of defensive tackle help. The Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are listed as clubs potentially trying to address their interior defensive line this offseason by Pro Football Focus.

Why should he be expected back? Ever since arriving in New England, Guy has been a cornerstone of the team’s defensive front. Given the uncertainty it faces — both Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise Jr. are unrestricted free agents as well — trying to keep an experienced starter-level player in the fold would therefore be smart business from the Patriots’ perspective. Guy has proven himself against both the run and the pass, and New England needs all the talent it can get to reload its defensive front seven.

Why should he be expected to leave? While Guy has already gotten the first big payday of his career, the offers he will receive this spring might still play a prominent role in his decision making process — especially if the Patriots only present a short-term deal to keep him around. Add the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30 and as such not a candidate to stick around fore more than one or two years, and you could see why the two sides might part ways.

What is his projected free agency outcome? Regardless of his age, keeping Guy in the fold has to be a priority for a Patriots team that will possibly experience plenty of turnover in its defensive front seven: he offers leadership, experience and is not expected to fall off a cliff anytime soon after four strong seasons in New England. Accordingly, keeping him on a medium-level pact — something like two years for $8 million — would probably be the best free agency outcome for both sides.