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Patriots 2023 free agency profile: Carl Davis is a candidate to return on another 1-year deal

The defensive tackle will enter unrestricted free agency in mid-March.

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Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots

Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.

Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 20 players that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is defensive tackle Carl Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent and is scheduled to hit the open market on March 15.

Hard facts

Name: Carl Davis Jr.

Position: Defensive tackle/Interior defensive lineman

Jersey number: 98

Opening day age: 31

Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent


What is his experience? Following an impressive career at the University of Iowa, Davis entered the 2014 NFL Draft as one of the better prospects along the interior defensive line. As such, he was selected with the 90th overall pick in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens. Davis spent the first three years of his professional career in Baltimore but was unable to rise beyond reserve status: he appeared in 28 games for the club before being released ahead of the 2018 season.

Despite being a possible practice squad candidate, Davis never made it to Baltimore’s scout team and instead was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns. He remained with the Browns throughout the 2018 season, but played only 31 defensive snaps over five games. Nevertheless, he re-signed with the club the following offseason. However, Davis never set foot onto the field as a Brown again: he was released in August, and spent the 2019 season with the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.

After appearing in a combined three games for the two AFC South squads, he eventually found his way to New England during the 2020 season. Even though he saw only limited playing time in his first year in Foxborough, Davis received regular action during his second and third seasons with the organization. All in all, he has seen action in 37 games for the Patriots — more than half of his 73 total games as a pro — and registered a pair of sacks as well as one fumble recovery and 33 tackles.

What did his 2022 season look like? Coming off his best season with the Patriots, the team did not immediately re-sign Davis as an unrestricted free agent in 2022. The veteran instead remained unsigned until late April, when he returned on a one-year minimum salary contract. The deal did give him another opportunity to compete for a spot on New England’s roster, though, and Davis took advantage: after seeing regular action in all three preseason games he again was able to make the 53-man team.

Davis went on to again play some solid if not necessarily spectacular football for the Patriots in 2022. In total, he saw the field for 218 out of 1,130 defensive snaps (19.3%) as well as 127 of 457 (27.8%) on special teams. While his opportunities on defense decreased slightly when compared to the previous season, Davis’ kicking game output was the highest of his career; he had played just 166 total snaps in the game’s third phase over his first seven seasons in the NFL combined.

His special teams role was limited to field goal and extra point blocking and protection squads; Davis’ biggest impact on the 2022 Patriots therefore came on the defensive side of the ball. And he did have some positive moments: he registered a sack and four additional quarterback disruptions, per Pro Football Focus, despite primarily being used as a run defender. He also recovered a fumble in Week 6 against Cleveland and returned it 17 yards to set up a New England touchdown.

However, the pendulum also swung in the other direction at times. Davis, for example, was credited with two missed tackles on just 13 total tackle attempts — a miss rate of 15.4 percent. He also was all over the place as a run defender at times which in turn contributed to the team’s issues especially in a Week 7 game against the Chicago Bears; one that saw Bears quarterback Justin Fields run all over the New England defense. Davis was a valuable rotational piece in 2022, but he lacked the consistency to be a regular contributor.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? Davis has signed multiple contracts since joining the league as a third-round draft pick in 2015. Most of them have come near the minimum level, however, including the most recent one-year, $1.19 million deal he signed with New England last offseason. Nonetheless, Over the Cap estimates that he has earned around $7 million over the course of his career — $2.8 million of which with the Patriots.

Which teams might be in the running? While Davis has never really been a starter-level option at any stage of his career, he offers experience as a depth player — experience that several teams might be interested in. Among those are the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.

Why should he be expected back? Davis combines four things that might make him attractive for the Patriots: he has experience, has proven himself a durable player, will likely not be expensive, and plays a position that is a low-key need heading into 2023. Bringing him back on another one-year contract similar to the ones he signed the last two offseasons would make sense for the team, if only to create some flexibility at the defensive tackle position heading toward the draft.

Why should he be expected to leave? Davis will turn 31 ahead of free agency, and while his age is not a disqualifier per se it is obvious that he has little room for growth at this point. The Patriots could therefore opt to move on from him, and look for higher-upside options elsewhere — either on the roster already (e.g. Sam Roberts) or via free agency or the draft.

What is his projected free agency outcome? Re-signing Davis would not be the sexiest move the Patriots could make, but it would solidify the backend of their roster at a relatively minor cost. Him signing yet another one-year pact at the minimum salary of $1.17 million would make sense for New England and the veteran defender alike. From a team perspective, this would also possibly qualify the contract for veteran salary benefit status. In that case, only $940,000 of Davis’ salary would actually count against the cap.


Do you want the Patriots to re-sign Carl Davis?

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