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Patriots 2022 free agency targets: Will New England make more moves along its defensive line?

Related: Patriots free agency preview: New England’s interior offensive line depth looks worrisome

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The New England Patriots completely overhauled their defensive line last offseason. Not only did they trade up to select Christian Barmore in the second round of the draft, they also made plenty of free agency moves: Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis were re-signed, while Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson were plucked from the open market.

With the exception of Davis, all of them remain under contract for the team heading into 2022. The group as a whole therefore looks as follows as the time being:

  • Davon Godchaux
  • Christian Barmore
  • Lawrence Guy
  • Deatrich Wise Jr.
  • Henry Anderson
  • Byron Cowart
  • Daniel Ekuale
  • Bill Murray

Barmore is the center piece of the group moving forward. The first defensive tackle to come off the board in last year’s draft, the Alabama product played some impressive football and would have been a realistic candidate to earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors if not for the Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons. Still, Barmore is the future at the position.

The same is not true for every other player listed here. Godchaux will likely remain with the team through at least 2022 — in fact, he is a candidate for an extension — as will Guy and Wise Jr. The other four interior linemen on the roster are less certain to be retained.

The same is also true for the group’s lone free agent:

Davis played some solid football for the Patriots after returning on a one-year deal last March. However, the 30-year-old does not appear to be the answer to the questions along the team’s D-line, and it would not be a surprise if the team opted against bringing him back for a third season.

In turn, there is some potential to add talent up front. The draft is always an option, especially for a team with limited salary cap space, but if the Patriots were to look to the open market the following men might be seen as targets.

Vernon Butler (UFA): Coming off two rather quiet years in Buffalo, Butler might be looking for a change of scenery. The Patriots, who have never shied away from giving former first-round draft picks another shot, might take a look at him: Butler has shown in the past — i.e. when he was still in Carolina — that he can be productive against both the run and the pass.

Maliek Collins (UFA): Collins might be a bit undersized for New England’s liking, but he can still add some value as a rotational pass rusher from the interior defensive line. The 26-year-old registered a combined 31 quarterback disruptions for the Houston Texans in 2021.

Calais Campbell (UFA): Campbell will turn 36 in September, but he would improve New England’s depth up front. His asking price might be an issue despite his age — he was paid $8 million by Baltimore in 2021 — but the veteran is still among the better interior defensive linemen in the league. As such, he might be worth a look.

Akiem Hicks (UFA): Could “the one that got away” return to his old stomping grounds? It is possible given the familiarity between the Patriots and Hicks. His age — 32 — and the fact that he struggled with injuries in 2021 might drop his price a bit, which in turn might make him a potential target for New England.

Maurice Hurst Jr. (UFA): Even though Hurst does not fit the Patriots’ typical mold along the defensive line from a size perspective, his upside makes him an intriguing option in free agency: he is a capable run defender and pass rusher, but has not yet lived up to his full potential since joining the NFL in 2018. By the way, his father, Maurice, played for New England in the 1990s.

Austin Johnson (UFA): A former second-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans, Johnson spent the 2021 season in New York under head coach and current Patriots assistant Joe Judge. Could their connection lead to a reunion in New England? If so, Johnson would add some value as a rotational interior pass rusher.

DaQuan Jones (UFA): After starting his career in Tennessee, Jones spent the 2021 season in Carolina and played some solid football. At 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, he fits New England’s size requirements and would offer value as both a run defender and interior penetrator.

Linval Joseph (UFA): Joseph is no longer the same elite interior defender he was earlier in his career, but the 33-year-old is still a capable presence versus the run and pass. He also can play the nose tackle spot that the Patriots have not been able to properly fill the last few seasons.

Corey Peters (UFA): Despite turning 34 in June, Peters and his 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame would help address one of the biggest needs on New England’s current roster: he could serve as a big-bodied nose tackle. He also would likely come comparatively cheap due to his role as a one-dimensional space-eater rather than a gap-shooter.

Tyler Lancaster (UFA): Lancester would check a lot of boxes for the Patriots. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds he has the size to serve as as two-gapper up font, and also is capable of playing multiple techniques along the line. At age 27, he is still comparatively young.

Larry Ogunjobi (UFA): Ogunjobi would give the Patriots another rotational option along their defensive line due to his ability to attack upfield from various techniques. The 27-year-old is coming off a career year with the Cincinnati Bengals, but would likely serve as a rotational player in New England.

Tim Settle (UFA): A classic under-the-radar player, Settle has played some good football in Washington the last four seasons. Capable of lining up on the nose, the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder would be a solid rotational piece for a flexible front such as New England’s.

At the end of the day, the Patriots signing a low-cost option to bolster the depth up front makes sense. While a player of the caliber of Calais Campbell or Akiem Hicks would be an intriguing addition, it seems more likely that low-level free agents such as Washington’s Tim Settle might be brought in.

As noted above, the core of the group is in place. While that does not mean the Patriots won’t invest in the draft if a talented player falls into their lap, free agency should be mainly about addressing the depth and finding some upgrades behind the top-four.