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Patriots 2022 offseason preview: New England’s defensive edge faces an uncertain future

Related: Patriots offseason preview: New England needs to keep building its D-line around Christian Barmore

NFL: JAN 02 Jaguars at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire 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 at the defensive edge.

Matthew Judon

Age: 29

Experience: 6

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Judon has a salary cap hit of $6.5 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots backed up the Brink’s truck in Judon’s driveway last offseason, signing the former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker to a four-year, $54.5 million contract in free agency. The investment was significant, but the 29-year-old lived up to the lofty expectations it brought with it.

Earning his third straight Pro Bowl nomination, Judon dominated as a pass rusher off the edge and ended the year with a career-high 12.5 sacks and a team-leading 64 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Even though his season did not end as hot as it started — he did not notch a QB takedown in his last five games and also had to spend time on the Covid-19 reserve list — Judon’s first year as a Patriot was impressive.

2022 preview: Considering that he arrived in New England just last year and is coming off a Pro Bowl-level season, Judon is a lock to remain with the team heading into 2022 despite carrying the highest salary cap hit on the team ($16.5 million). The main question for him will be whether or not he can take the second-year jump associated not just with players on their rookie deals but also those changing teams.

If he is able to take that next step with one year of experience in New England’s system under his belt, Judon should be able to play a more consistent season in 2022. In turn, he would make the whole defense better.

Ronnie Perkins

Age: 22

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Perkins has a salary cap hit of $1.09 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots selected Perkins in the third round of last year’s draft, but he did not see the field during his rookie campaign. Injuries and a talented edge group ahead of him limited his opportunities, and the Oklahoma product remained a game-day inactive throughout the season. Perkins did appear in all three preseason contests, though, registering six quarterback disruptions on 96 total defensive snaps.

2022 preview: Given that the Patriots are facing some uncertainty along their defensive edge this season, and the draft pick they invested in him, Perkins should be expected to play a more prominent role as a sophomore. While he will likely not develop into a starting option just yet, he might be able to add some value as a situational pass-rusher. New England at least has to hope that that is what will happen.

Josh Uche

Age: 23

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Uche has a salary cap hit of $1.47 million in 2022.

2021 review: A second-round draft pick in 2020, Uche had some very good moments as a rookie but was only partially able to build on them in Year 2. He had more sacks (3) and tackles (12), and also recovered a fumble, but his role as a whole did not grow significantly: Uche was still used predominately as a pass rusher on late downs.

Missing four games due to an ankle injury and another due to a back issue, Uche appeared in 13 games during his sophomore campaign. He was on the field for a combined 242 out of a possible 1,135 defensive snaps.

2022 preview: Uche’s development in Year 3 will be interesting to watch. He has the tools to become a starting-caliber edge in the NFL, but has yet to carve out a consistent role outside of pass-rushing situations. Maybe he will be able to do that in 2022, with neither Kyle Van Noy nor Chase Winovich locks to be back.

Either way, the upcoming offseason will be a big one for the Michigan man.

Kyle Van Noy

Age: 30

Experience: 8

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Van Noy has a salary cap hit of $7.45 million in 2022.

2021 review: Despite a productive 2020 season, the Miami Dolphins decided to cut Van Noy ahead of the new league year. A return to New England always felt like a realistic possibility, and indeed he re-signed with the club just nine days following his release.

Van Noy was used a bit differently than in his last season before joining the Dolphins. Whereas the Patriots had employed the veteran primarily on the edge in 2019, he saw significantly more off-the-ball snaps in 2021. Playing more of a hybrid role, he still was productive: appearing in 17 games and playing 864 of 1,135 defensive snaps, Van Noy notched five sacks as well as two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

2022 preview: There is no question Van Noy can be a solid player for the Patriots even on the wrong side of 30. However, his contract might become a problem this offseason: Van Noy carries a $7.45 million salary cap hit, and the team would create net cap savings of over $4 million in case of a release.

There are other ways to bring his cap hit down, but the gist remains the same: Van Noy’s future is an uncertain one despite him being under contract and having played a starter-level role in 2021.

Chase Winovich

Age: 26

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Winovich has a salary cap hit of $1.21 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots’ reigning sack leader was far less disruptive in 2021. After notching 47 quarterback disruptions the previous year, he had only four of them in his third season in the league. Missing four games due to a hamstring injury obviously did not help, but the team had used him more on special teams than his usual pass-rushing role even before he went down in Week 6.

All in all, Winovich appeared in 13 games in 2021. He was on the field for 113 snaps on defense and an additional 161 in the kicking game.

2022 preview: Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Winovich’s career might be at a crossroads. While there is a chance the team keeps him due to his experience as a pass rusher and special teamer, it would not be a surprise if it moved on from him either: a trade or release would not have a major impact on the salary cap, but it might yield some compensation and in turn give Ronnie Perkins an opening for more playing time.

As of right now, however, that is only speculation. Winovich is under contract with the team and still on his way to compete for a more prominent defensive role.