One year after leading the NFL in scoring, the New England Patriots defense took a major step back in 2020. While high-profile free agency departures and Coronavirus opt-outs obviously hurt the unit, so did its inability to properly hold its ground up front: the Patriots’ defensive line was repeatedly unable to fill its gaps, especially versus the run.
In order to address the issue and make the defensive front seven as a whole a stouter one, New England did not waste any time in free agency by signing defensive tackle Davon Godchaux to a two-year contract.
Name: Davon Godchaux
Position: Defensive tackle
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Contract: 2 years, $16 million ($9 million guaranteed)
After three seasons at LSU, Godchaux decided to take his talents to the NFL by declaring for the 2017 draft. While he had to wait until the fifth round to hear his name called, the big-bodied defensive lineman joined a favorable situation with the Miami Dolphins: he was able to get consistent playing time early on in his career, and finished his rookie season with 500 defensive snaps over 15 games — a sign of things to come given that his opportunities only increased over the coming three seasons.
In total, Godchaux therefore has 52 in-game appearances on his résumé. His final season in Miami, however, was a challenging one for him. Not only did he spend time on the Reserve/Covid-19 list in August, he also was limited to just five games all year due to a bicep injury. The ailment forced Godchaux to undergo surgery in mid-October, and the Dolphins to shut him down for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old entered his first free agency as an intriguing target along the interior defensive line.
What is his projected role in New England? Even though the Patriots invested in Beau Allen last year to help bolster the nose tackle position, the team was unable to get consistent play out of it: Allen missed the entire season due to a mystery ailment, while the other interior linemen on the roster had to play out of position or simply were not up to the task. Adding Godchaux to the mix should help New England bolster its front line given that he is a big player well-suited to perform on early downs and versus the run in their two-gap scheme.
Where does he fit on the defensive tackle depth chart? With the Patriots’ top three defensive tackles from a year ago — Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise Jr. — all still unaccounted for in free agency, Godchaux should be seen as the number one player at the position right now. But even if New England adds to the group by signing others or taking to the draft, the 26-year-old will see plenty of actions as an early-down run stuffer helping free up the second-level defenders to make plays downhill.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though he was moved all over the defensive line during his four seasons with the Dolphins, Godchaux’s best fit in New England’s scheme appears to be either as a nose in their 3-4-based alignments or between the 1- and 3-technique positions in four-man fronts. All in all, his positional versatility is limited a bit due to the position that he is playing — as is the case with other members of the Patriots’ defensive tackle group as well.
What is his special teams value? With the exception of his injury-shortened 2020 season, Godchaux played between 18 and 21 percent of the Dolphins’ special teams snaps during his tenure with the club. Miami primarily used him on its field goal and extra point blocking units, a role he should continue to play with the Patriots as well.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? While the final structure of the contract will determine how much of an impact Godchaux’s deal will have on the Patriots’ available resources, the raw numbers of his deal show that it is a mid-tier contract for a defensive tackle — one that reflects his potential upside in New England’s system but also his somewhat limited value beyond the early downs. Still, two years and $16 million in maximum value is not a bad deal for either side.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Even with Godchaux now added to the mix, the Patriots might still be in the market for a defensive tackle come the draft. A lot will depend on the other players to either be signed or retained over the coming hours or days. Either way, signing Godchaux alone does not mean that the interior D-line is not still a need for New England that needs to be addressed.
One-sentence verdict: Godchaux’s addition does not mean the Patriots won’t keep Lawrence Guy and company, but it certainly means they were not happy with their defensive tackle play a year ago.
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