The New England Patriots opened the second day of the NFL’s legal tampering period by making a change at the linebacker position. The team moved on from former third-round draft pick Chase Winovich via trade, sending him to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Mack Wilson.
What does the move mean from a New England perspective, though? Let’s find out.
Wilson and Winovich do not play the same positions
While both players are listed as linebackers, Mack Wilson and Chase Winovich are not the same type of player: whereas Wilson is more of an off-the-ball linebacker, Winovich has traditionally been playing on the edge for the Patriots. New England therefore essentially took from one position to bolster the other.
Wilson also has a different skillset than Winovich. Listed at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds compared to Winovich’s 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, the former Alabama product offers more upside when dropping back into coverage and attacking downhill versus the run. Winovich, on the other hand, was more of a traditional edge rusher who had some issues standing his ground in the running game.
Patriots improve their off-the-ball depth but weaken their edge
New England’s off-the-ball linebacker position remains a major need at the moment, but Wilson adds some experienced depth to the group. He played over 1,500 defensive snaps in three seasons with the Browns, and spent his rookie year as a starter.
While his role decreased over the years — same as Winovich’s — he has a chance to earn prominent playing time on a position group currently looking as follows:
- Raekwon McMillan
- Mack Wilson
- Anfernee Jennings
- Cameron McGrone
- Harvey Langi
- Terez Hall
- Jahlani Tavai
Clearly, the Patriots are not done adding talent at linebacker. For one, their top three players at the position remain unsigned heading into free agency. Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins are all scheduled to hit the open market on Wednesday; seeing New England retain at least one of them would not be a surprise.
While adding Mack improved the current status of the off-the-ball position, the edge has been weakened by sending Winovich to Cleveland — especially with veteran Kyle Van Noy previously getting released as well. As a result, the group now looks like this:
- Matthew Judon
- Josh Uche
- Ronnie Perkins
Matthew Judon is the clear leader of the bunch, but the depth behind him is shallow. Josh Uche showed his talent in flashes but was a role player his first two years in the NFL, whereas Ronnie Perkins was redshirted as a rookie last season.
Both Uche and Perkins offer some talent — they were drafted in the second and third round, respectively — but they have yet to show they can put it all together.
Wilson adds experience on special teams
Chase Winovich’s biggest contributions to the Patriots’ roster in 2021 came on special teams. Despite missing four games with a hamstring injury, the third-year man was on the field for 161 of a possible 464 snaps in the game’s third phase (34.7%) and saw action on both punt and kickoff teams as well as the field goal/extra point blocking squad.
Mack Wilson, however, is also an experienced special teamer. The 24-year-old was used in a similar fashion as Winovich: he too played on all four punt and kickoff teams and saw action on the blocking unit. In total, Wilson played 180 of 425 snaps (42.4%).
The writing was on the wall for Winovich
After seeing regular action on the edge in both 2019 and 2020 — registering a combined 11 sacks — Winovich was pushed down the depth chart in 2021. Even with third-round rookie Ronnie Perkins receiving the redshirt treatment, he failed to regularly crack the rotation behind Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy and Josh Uche.
Even with Van Noy already released, the Patriots apparently felt as if his outlook was unfavorable. Winovich’s 2021 season and his limited defensive playing time were therefore a sign of what was to come.
Patriots lose cap space despite Wilson getting drafted after Winovich
Even though Wilson heard his name called 78 selections after Winovich in the 2019 NFL Draft, he will have a higher cap number. Why? Wilson’s salary for the 2022 season is $2.54 million compared to Winovich’s $965,000.
The difference is a result of the NFL’s proven performance escalator system. Wilson earned those escalators, raising his salary in the last year of his rookie contract (i.e. 2022). Winovich, on the other hand, did not see consistent enough playing time thus far to trigger the raise. Hence, the Patriots are losing cap space by acquiring Wilson.
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