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Patriots 2021 free agency profile: Re-signing Deatrich Wise Jr. would make sense for New England

Related: Patriots free agency profile: RB James White

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New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/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 later this month — 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 lineman Deatrich Wise Jr, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.

Hard facts

Name: Deatrich Wise Jr.

Position: Defensive end

Jersey number: 91

Opening day age: 27

Size: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Experience

What is his experience? Following five seasons spent at the University of Arkansas, Wise Jr. heard his name called in the fourth round of the NFL’s 2017 draft. One of a league-low four players selected by New England that year, he was the only member of the group to make the team’s 53-man roster his rookie year — a sign of things to come: Wise Jr. is not just the most productive member of the Patriots’ draft class to this day, but the only one to stay with the team through all four of his seasons as a pro.

All in all, he has appeared in 62 regular season games and five postseason contests so far, and also played a prominent role during the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl 53. Along the way, Wise Jr. proved himself a solid and versatile member of the team’s defensive front-seven: after starting out as more of a edge defender in New England’s 4-3-based defense of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he morphed into more of a interior lineman — primarily aligning as an end in 3-4 looks — over his last two years.

While not a starting-level player, Wise Jr. still accumulated a total of 16 sacks since joining the Patriots and also developed nicely as a big-bodied run defender. For a player who saw 130 others come off the board before him in the draft, his NFL résumé certainly is a solid one.

What did his 2020 season look like? After seeing his role change a bit during the 2019 season, Wise Jr. returned the final year of his rookie contract projected to play a prominent role along New England’s interior defensive line once again. He did just that, and had arguably the best season of his career: serving mostly as a traditional end in 3-4-based alignments or as a pass-rushing tackle in sub package looks, the former fourth-round draft pick spent more time on the field than any other Patriots interior D-lineman.

Overall, Wise Jr. played all 16 of New England’s games during the regular season — the third time in his career he was able to accomplish the feat — and was on the field for a career-high 55.6 percent of defensive snaps (565 of 1,017). For comparison, starter-level defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler played “only” 49.5 and 47.3 percent of snaps, respectively. While not as consistent a run defender as the two fellow interior linemen despite bulking up during the offseason, Wise Jr. still made his impact felt.

The four-year veteran, after all, was one of the Patriots’ most consistent and productive pass rushers throughout the 2020 season. In fact, only one other member of the team’s defense had more quarterback disruptions over the year than Wise Jr: whereas Chase Winovich finished with 56.5, Wise Jr. registered 38.5 — including 2.5 sacks. He also notched 42 combined tackles versus the run and added his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone versus the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3.

Along the way, Wise Jr. also saw some action in the kicking game: he played 44 of a possible 397 special teams snaps (11.1%) on New England’s field goal and extra point blocking units as well as the punt return team as a pressure player. All in all, his 2020 season was therefore a nice bounce-back year following what was a disappointing 2019 campaign. While still somewhat inconsistent and seemingly searching for a spot along the defensive line, Wise Jr. did get more opportunities than in the past.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? As mentioned above, Wise Jr. joined the Patriots as a fourth-round draft pick back in 2017. He went on to sign a standard four-year, $2.98 million rookie contract and spent the entirety of his career so far under that deal. Given the money earned through performance escalators and playoff bonuses, his career earnings so far do exceed that number: Wise Jr. is projected by Over the Cap to have earned around $4.4 million so far in his career.

Which teams might be in the running? While Wise Jr. has plenty of experience playing on the edge as well, his recent usage as more of an experienced interior lineman means that teams in need of defensive tackle help might all come after him in free agency. 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 by Pro Football Focus as teams potentially addressing the position.

Why should he be expected back? With fellow interior defensive linemen Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Cody Davis also headed for free agency, keeping the experienced Wise Jr. in the fold would give the Patriots some stability up front. The 26-year-old has also proven himself an effective rotational pass rusher from the 3- and 5-technique positions, and one of the veteran leaders on a defense that will move away from long-time cornerstones such as Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower sooner rather than later.

Why should he be expected to leave? Wise Jr. did prove himself a solid player since arriving in New England, but not one to be trusted with starter-level snaps on a regular basis — especially versus the run. Still, he could be looking for more steady playing time than what he will likely get as part of the Patriots’ interior rotation. Likewise, the team might decide to invest its resources in younger players with a higher ceiling than the one Wise Jr. showed over the last four years.

What is his projected free agency outcome? Re-signing Wise Jr. may not be the flashiest of moves, but it would allow the Patriots to keep some experienced leadership at a position group that could face some serious turnover this offseason. The market will obviously dictate whether or not a reunion is a realistic option, but a contract in the ballpark of two years and $6 million appears to be a fair compromise for both parties and would allow New England to keep a valuable and versatile player around.