With the preseason underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The Patriots currently have 80 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in late August and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping New England build on its 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie veteran defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr.
Name: Deatrich Wise Jr.
Position: Defensive end/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 91
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Following a five-year career at the University of Arkansas, Wise Jr. heard his name called in the fourth round of the NFL’s 2017 draft. One of a league-low four players selected by New England that year, he was the only member of the group to make the team’s 53-man roster his rookie year — a sign of things to come: Wise Jr. is not just the most productive member of that Patriots’ draft class to this day, but the only one to stay with the team throughout his rookie contract and beyond.
All in all, he has appeared in 78 regular season games and six postseason contests so far, and also played a prominent role during the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl 53. Along the way, Wise Jr. proved himself a solid and versatile member of the team’s defensive front-seven: after starting out as more of a edge defender in New England’s 4-3-based defense of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he has morphed into more of a interior lineman — primarily aligning as an end in 3-4 looks — over the last three years.
While not a starting-level player, Wise Jr. has still played a prominent role in the defensive line rotation lately. He also accumulated a total of 19 sacks since joining the Patriots and also showed some growth and development as a run defender — setting himself up for a major payday during the 2021 free agency period: Wise Jr. stayed put on a new four-year contract extension. For a player who saw 130 others come off the board before him in the 2017 draft, his pro résumé sure is a solid one.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off arguably the best season of his career up until that point, Wise Jr. entered unrestricted free agency in March 2021 with plenty of momentum on his side. He was able to translate it into a sizable new contract — one he signed with the same team he spent the first four years of his career with: Wise Jr. and the Patriots reached an agreement on a four-year, $22 million pact that would keep him in New England through the 2024 season and ensure his status as a key member of the defense.
As such, Wise Jr. saw action in 16 of New England’s 17 regular season games as well as the team’s wild card playoff defeat to the Buffalo Bills. Despite missing one game — the Patriots’ Week 16 loss against Buffalo — after being transferred to the Covid-19 reserve list, he still was on the field for 562 of a possible 1,135 defensive snaps. His playing time share of 49.5 percent ranked third among New England’s defensive linemen behind Davon Godchaux (59.3%) and Christian Barmore (55.6%).
As was the case throughout his career, Wise Jr. saw regular action both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. He notched 39 tackles in the running game, with three of them for a loss of yards; he also finished with a missed tackle rate of 6.5 percent (3 of 46). Additionally, the veteran ranked fourth on the team with 18 quarterback disruptions — including three sacks. He also forced a fumble in a Week 10 victory over the Cleveland Browns (a game that also saw him register a season-high 1.5 sacks).
Once again, Wise Jr. also saw a bit of action in the kicking game. He played 52 of a possible 464 special teams snaps (11.2%) on New England’s field goal and extra point blocking and protection units. He also served as one of the leading voices in a defensive front seven that saw considerable personnel turnover compared to its 2020 version. All in all, 2021 was therefore another solid year for Wise Jr. even though his contributions oftentimes flew under the radar compared to some of his teammates.
What is his projected role? Wise Jr. started his career with the Patriots as more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end, but was moved to the inside — aligning mostly between the offensive tackles — when the team went in a slightly different schematic direction back in 2019. Heading into the new season and with New England’s front seven once more undergoing some personnel changes, everything seems to be on the table again. Based on his skillset, however, Wise Jr. still projects as a big-bodied pocket pusher who can and will align everywhere between the 3- and the 7-technique spots.
Does he have positional versatility? Ever since arriving in New England in 2017, Wise Jr. was moved all over the team’s defensive line. He was originally used as a rotational edge who was moved inside on select passing downs, but, as noted above, saw his role modified ahead of the 2019 season to become more of a 3-4 end and sub-package tackle from 2019 on. Heading into 2022, the Arkansas product again projects as a player capable of wearing multiple hats both as a run defender and pass rusher.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with most defensive linemen, Wise Jr. offers some but not a ton of special teams value. Through the years, he has seen occasional action on three units: the field goal and extra point blocking and protection teams as well as the punt coverage unit. In 2021, as noted above, he did not take the field on the punt squad, but was semi-regularly employed on the two place kicking units. He will likely play a similar role in 2022 as well.
What is his salary cap situation? One year into the contract he signed with the Patriots last March, Wise Jr. already saw the deal modified to make room for trade acquisition DeVante Parker. As part of that restructure, his 2022 salary cap hit went down from $6.19 million to $4.29 million: the veteran defender is now playing on a $1.15 million salary as well as two signing bonus prorations worth a total of $2.2 million; he also carries $941,176 in likely-to-be-earned roster bonuses. His cap hits in both 2023 and 2024 went up due to restructure.
How safe is his roster spot? Wise Jr. is in a comfortable situation heading toward roster cutdown day. Not only would the Patriots create a higher dead money charge than salary cap saving by releasing the 28-year-old, he also projects as a valuable and oft-used member of their defensive line rotation yet again. While he does not have the same upside as a player like Christian Barmore, for example, he is an important cog in New England’s defensive machinery.
One-sentence projection: Wise Jr.’s 2022 season will look a lot like his 2021 campaign, with his contributions of importance but not necessarily flashy.