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Patriots 2022 offseason preview: New England needs to keep building its defensive line around Christian Barmore

Related: Patriots offseason preview: New England remains in good shape along its interior O-line

Jacksonville Jaguars Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Only two teams are left standing in the NFL postseason tournament, but the New England Patriots are not among them. They are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium after their wild card playoff loss in Buffalo.

It projects to be an interesting one for the Patriots. The team did go 10-7 in the regular season and returned to the playoffs, but it does face plenty of questions after its late-season collapse and with numerous starters in all three phases headed towards free agency. With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position at a time.

Today, we continue along the interior defensive line.

Henry Anderson

Age: 30

Experience: 7

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Anderson has a salary cap hit of $3.68 million in 2022.

2021 review: After three solid seasons with the New York Jets, the team released Anderson shortly before the start of free agency. It took him two weeks to find a new team: the Patriots picked him up on a two-year contract to add him to their rebuilt defensive line.

Anderson went on to appear in the team’s first four games in a rotational role, playing a combined 35 snaps on defense and 28 more on special teams. However, in Week 4 against Tampa Bay he suffered a torn pec and was placed on season-ending injured reserve a short time later. Anderson’s first year in New England ended with three tackles.

2022 preview: Anderson is in a difficult spot heading into the 2022 offseason. While he did have some good moments in the past, he failed to earn regular playing time along New England’s defensive line in his first season with the club. Add the fact he is coming off a season-ending injury and would create net cap savings of roughly $1.9 million, it would not be a surprise to see the team release him once he is considered fully healthy again.

Christian Barmore

Age: 22

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Barmore has a salary cap hit of $1.94 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots made a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of last year’s draft to move up the board and select Barmore. The first defensive tackle off the board, the Alabama product had a promising first season in the NFL.

Appearing in all 18 of the Patriots’ games, Barmore became an instant difference-maker along their defensive front. He was on the field for 55.6 percent of New England’s defensive snaps during his 2021 rookie season — only Davon Godchaux had a higher playing time share among the team’s interior D-linemen — and finished the season ranked second on the team with 51 quarterback disruptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

2022 preview: The Patriots have some talented players under contract along their interior defensive line, but Barmore is the most intriguing long-term option under contract. Needless to say that building around him will be key for the team moving forward.

As for the second-year man himself, his role is only expected to grow. Barmore saw a heavy playing-time share already in 2021 and will always be a part of a rotation — that’s just how New England uses players at that position — but it would not be a surprise to see him get even more exposure as a sophomore, and continue developing into one of the most disruptive interior defenders in all of football.

Byron Cowart

Age: 25

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Cowart has a salary cap hit of $1.04 million in 2022.

2021 review: Cowart’s third season in the NFL was over before it really ever began. The Patriots placed the former fifth-round draft pick on their physically unable to perform list ahead of training camp, and never activated him. While he did return to practice in October, he was not added to the 53-man roster within the 21-day activation window.

2022 preview: Despite playing some solid football at times during the 2020 season, Cowart’s future in New England is one of uncertainty. The team will likely give him another chance to get back onto the field and carve out a rotational role up front, but entering the final year of his rookie deal he is far from a lock to remain on the roster through cutdown day — especially if more depth is added up front through free agency or the draft.

Carl Davis

Age: 29

Experience: 7

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 16.

2021 review: One of the Patriots’ under-the-radar re-signings last spring, Davis ended up seeing some regular playing time along the team’s defensive line in 2021. Primarily aligning at the nose tackle spot, the veteran appeared in all 17 regular season games before being a healthy scratch for the wild card playoff loss in Buffalo.

Davis was on the field for 276 of a possible 1,135 defensive snaps, registering 19 tackles and a sack. Statistically speaking, the season was the most productive of his career.

2022 preview: Entering unrestricted free agency for a second straight year, the Patriots will likely not overextend to bring Davis back into the fold despite some solid football in 2021. Instead, it would not be a surprise if they took their time before possibly bringing him back on another low-cost contract. But even that is no guarantee for a team trying to get younger up front.

Daniel Ekuale

Age: 28

Experience: 4

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season after signing a reserve/futures pact with the Patriots.

2021 review: A short time after the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to release him on roster cutdown day, Ekuale joined the Patriots via their practice squad. The Washington State product remained on the developmental roster throughout the year, but was elevated to the game-day team on eight separate occasions.

In total, Ekuale appeared in eight games during the 2021 season. Playing a total of 115 defensive snaps over seven regular season games and New England’s lone playoff contest, the 28-year-old registered a pair of sacks as well as six tackles.

2022 preview: Ekuale had some solid outings in his first season with the Patriots and should benefit from a full offseason with the club. That said, he is not guaranteed to make the roster or practice squad again. His ceiling is limited, and the team will likely add some competition to the fold — either by getting players such as Byron Cowart back, or by adding more depth through free agency and the draft.

Davon Godchaux

Age: 27

Experience: 5

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Godchaux has a salary cap hit of $10.25 million in 2022.

2021 review: One of the first signings the Patriots made during their 2021 free agency spending spree, Godchaux came as advertised. A big-bodied presence up front that is well-suited to play in New England’s two-gap style, the veteran defensive tackle saw regular action along the D-line primarily on early downs.

Godchaux appeared in all 18 games in his first year with the club, notching 16 total quarterback disruptions as well as a forced fumble. 65 of his 66 tackles came in the running game.

2022 preview: Despite his salary cap hit ballooning to $10.25 million — seventh highest on the team — Godchaux will likely not be going anywhere. More likely, the team will try to sign him to an extension to bring his $6.5 million base salary down and keep him into the fold beyond his 2022 contract season.

Lawrence Guy

Age: 31

Experience: 11

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Guy has a salary cap hit of $4.5 million in 2022.

2021 review: The most experienced defensive lineman on New England’s roster, Guy was the last major domino to fall during last year’s free agency. The Patriots eventually brought him back on a new four-year deal worth a total of $11.5 million.

While not voted a team captain as opposed to the previous season, Guy again played a prominent role for the defense. He appeared in all 18 games and was on the field for 560 of 1,135 defensive snaps. While he had only 15 quarterback disruptions while predominately being used as a run defender, the veteran did have a good albeit at times inconsistent season; he ended the year with a combined 61 run game tackles.

2022 preview: While turning 32 in March, the Patriots moving on from Guy at this point in his contract would be a minor surprise. He is still a serviceable rotational defensive tackle, after all, and releasing him would only create net savings of $1.93 million against the cap. It seems more likely that New England will keep him around as an experienced role player.

Deatrich Wise Jr.

Age: 27

Experience: 5

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Wise Jr. has a salary cap hit of $6.25 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots made some major investments along their defensive line last spring, and one of them included re-signing Wise Jr. on a new, four-year, $22 million contract. The former fourth-round draft pick ended up seeing some prominent action as a versatile lineman: moving all over the defensive line, Wise Jr. was on the field for 562 defensive snaps.

Wise Jr. registered 28 combined quarterback disruptions, including 1.5 sacks. He also recovered a fumble and notched 39 tackles in the running game.

2022 preview: Wise Jr’s $6.25 million salary cap hit is notable given his rotational status, but anything but him being on the team this year would be a major surprise. Not only is his contract structured in a way that makes cutting him a losing proposition — if cut before June 2 the team would lose $2.4 million given that his 2022 salary is fully guaranteed — he also is playing a valuable role up front.