The New England Patriots have roads to explore at defensive tackle leading up to the 2021 NFL year. Another potential one appeared on the map Thursday afternoon.
Casey, 31, had two years and no guaranteed money remaining on his $60.4 million contract extension after arriving from the Tennessee Titans last March. Acquired in exchange for pick No. 237 overall — which was once part of the New England trade involving cornerback Duke Dawson — Casey would play 156 defensive snaps for Denver. His stay included three starts before a torn biceps sent him to injured reserve as the calendar turned to October.
But the USC product has started 145 games between his regular seasons and postseasons. A handful have come against the Patriots since entering the league in the third round of the 2011 draft.
Bill Belichick provided a lengthy scouting report leading up to one of them.
“He’s a great player,” New England’s head coach said in a press conference prior to the January 2018 AFC divisional round versus Tennessee. “He does a good job, very active, strong in the running game. He’s not a real long guy but he plays with great leverage. He’s got very good quickness. He’s a disruptive player. He’s quick enough to get up field and get the edge. He’s explosive and powerful enough to knock guys back, so he can win with his quickness, win with his strength, win with his power. He’s a smart player, very instinctive, reads screens and misdirection plays, things like that, well.”
Casey’s 90.0 Pro Football Focus grade ranks 12th among interior defensive linemen dating back the past decade. He has eclipsed 500 tackles and 50 sacks in a career that spans five Pro Bowls and one second-team All-Pro selection.
And over his final pair of campaigns in Tennessee, Casey combined for a dozen sacks to go with a trio of forced fumbles and a trio of fumble recoveries.
“He’s a hard guy to fool,” Belichick’s 2018 scouting report continued. “He diagnoses plays well and he’s a very good player. He plays hard, gets a lot of plays in pursuit, chases things down, but he hustles from the backside. He’s not really out of any play. You’ve got to block him all the way through the play.”
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Casey is eligible to find his next NFL roster three weeks ahead of the league’s movement.
It is a position that’s subject to movement in New England, where captain Lawrence Guy and undrafted standout Adam Butler are set to become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. ET on March 17. Time will tell whether it trends younger or older from there for an organization projected to carry north of $63.5 million in cap room, according to PatsCap’s Miguel Benzan.
Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman, Akeem Spence, Bill Murray and Michael Barnett are currently under contract for the 2021 depth chart. As is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles nose tackle Beau Allen, who spent the duration of his first Patriots campaign on injured reserve while Xavier Williams, Carl Davis and Isaiah Mack stopped in midseason.
Opposing ground games tallied 2,103 yards and 17 touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry versus New England in 2020.