Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is defensive tackle Carl Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Carl Davis
Position: Defensive tackle/Interior defensive lineman
Jersey number: 98
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Following an impressive career at the University of Iowa, Carl Davis entered the 2014 NFL Draft as one of the better prospects along the interior defensive line. As such, he was selected in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens. He did spend the first three years of his professional career in Baltimore but was unable to rise beyond reserve status: Davis appeared in 28 games for the club before eventually being released ahead of the 2018 season.
Despite being a possible practice squad candidate, Davis never made it to Baltimore’s scout team and instead was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns. He remained with the team throughout the 2018 season, but played only 31 defensive snaps over five games. Nevertheless, he re-signed with the club the following offseason. However, Davis never set foot onto the field as a Brown again: he was released in August, and spent the 2019 season with the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
After appearing in a combined three games for the two AFC South squads, he eventually found his way to New England during the 2020 season. Even though he failed to carve out a regular role and eventually saw only limited playing time in his first year in Foxborough, Davis received regular action during his second season with the team. In total, 20 of his 56 career games have come as a member of the Patriots.
What did his 2021 season look like? Before the start of the 2021 free agency period, the Patriots brought Davis back into the fold via a one-year contract. While the deal was a minimum salary contract with no guarantees, it gave the veteran defender a chance to carve out a role along a rebuilt defensive line. Davis did just that: not only he did he make the Patriots’ 53-man roster out of training camp, he ended up appearing in 17 of their 18 games during the 2021 season.
Aligning primarily as an early-down nose tackle in New England’s odd fronts, Davis was on the field for 276 of a possible 1,135 defensive snaps (24.3%). He ended the season with 18 run-game tackles and also put up four quarterback disruptions, including one 9-yard sack. His numbers are more a reflection of his usage rather than his performance: Davis saw only irregular opportunities along a D-line that also featured fellow interior defenders Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and standout rookie Christian Barmore.
That being said, Davis did struggle at times. His most prominent game in terms of playing time share, for example, saw the Tennessee Titans gain 271 rushing yards. The defensive tackle, who played a season-high 41 percent of defensive snaps that day, was not the lone culprit. However, his inability to consistently clog lanes and stand his ground against double teams was an issue — an issue that was on display in other games as well and likely contributed to the Patriots deactivating him for the playoff game in Buffalo.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Davis has signed multiple contracts since joining the league as a third-round draft pick in 2015. Most of them, however, have come near the minimum level — including the most recent one-year, $1.08 million deal he signed in New England last offseason. His contractual career earnings are therefore estimated at “only” $5.78 million, according to Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? The Patriots are just one of the teams in need of defensive tackle depth this offseason. At least in theory, Davis could have some suitors — ranging from playoff contenders such as the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to bottom-feeders such as the Houston Texans. One team also potentially in the market for a DT is the Las Vegas Raiders, who are now led by former New England director of player personnel Dave Ziegler.
Why should he be expected back? Davis combines three things that might make him attractive for the Patriots: he has experience, will likely not be expensive, and plays a position of need. Bringing him back on another one-year contract similar to the one he signed in 2021 would make sense for the team, if only to create some flexibility at the defensive tackle position heading into draft weekend.
Why should he be expected to leave? Despite heavy investments along their defensive line last offseason, the Patriots still need to get better. Finding higher-upside players — possibly to replace Davis’ spot in the lineup — should be relatively high up on the team’s list of priorities. Why bring Davis back if you could add better options with a more realistic long-term outlook through what is projected to be a deep draft?
What is his projected free agency outcome? Even though he played a somewhat prominent role for the Patriots in 2021, Davis’ future with the organization is very much in question. The team could bring him back on a short-term deal near the veteran’s minimum, but the fact remains: New England needs to get better and more consistent production out of its nose tackle position. Davis does not appear to be the answer to the questions at that spot, and it would consequently not be surprising if the team opted against bringing him back for a third season.
Will the Patriots re-sign Carl Davis?
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