The New England Patriots’ interior defensive line played some solid football in 2022, and saw contributions from all over the depth chart. It is not a real position of need this offseason, especially with several players under contract for the next two years, but it might still benefit from some additions.
Before looking at which areas the Patriots might want to target along their D-line, a brief breakdown of who the team has signed heading into 2023:
- Christian Barmore: 23 | Signed through 2024
- Deatrich Wise Jr.: 28 | Signed through 2024
- Davon Godchaux: 28 | Signed through 2024
- Lawrence Guy Sr.: 32 | Signed through 2024
- Sam Roberts: 24 | Signed through 2025
- Jeremiah Pharms Jr.: 26 | Signed through 2023
The Patriots are in good shape here, with Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Davon Godchaux the projected top-three and Lawrence Guy — the longest-tenured player on the team’s defense post-Devin McCourty retirement — an experienced fourth member in the rotation. Guy’s age has to be considered in any position-wide analysis, though.
The same is true for Sam Roberts and Jeremiah Pharms Jr. being virtual unknowns at this point in their careers, and for two members of the group entering unrestricted free agency on March 15:
Both Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale played some solid football as role players in 2022, and likely will not create too active a market. While it seems entirely possible both return, further limiting the need for any outside additions, the veteran market offers a few intriguing players in case New England sees potential for improvement.
Let’s meet some of them:
Zach Allen (UFA): A former third-round draft pick who played his best football in the final year of his rookie deal, Allen has the versatility to fit the Patriots’ hybrid front. More of a pass rusher than a run defender, he might be a potential replacement option should the team not retain Daniel Ekuale.
Andrew Billings (UFA): If the Patriots want to upgrade their run defense, they might look to Billings as a target. Standing at 6-foot-1, 311 pounds, the former Las Vegas Raiders lineman is well-suited to play in a gap-control scheme such as New England’s. And given his relative one-dimensionality with limited upside in the pass-rushing department, he might come comparatively cheap as well.
Akiem Hicks (UFA): At age 33, Hicks is no longer the player he was for the Chicago Bears just a few years ago. However, given his prior experience in the Patriots system and likely reasonable contract demands, he still might be worth a look as a rotational option.
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 interesting 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 Sr., played for New England in the 1990s.
Larry Ogunjobi (UFA): While he did not put up big stats in his first season in Pittsburgh in 2022, and is therefore flying under the radar a bit, Ogunjobi had a quite solid season. His run defense in particular looked promising, and adding him to the mix might give New England a higher-upside version of Carl Davis to work with.
Jordan Phillips (UFA): Phillips underwent surgery on a torn rotator cuff in the offseason but projects to be ready for training camp. Where will that training camp be after he spent 2022 in Buffalo? Possibly New England, because a) he would fill a need as a big-bodied gap-plugger up front, and b) the Patriots like taking from their division rivals.
Sheldon Rankins (UFA): Speaking of in-division pickups, Rankins would make a ton of sense for the Patriots as well. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder played a solid season for the New York Jets in 2022, and as a starter-level player proved himself capable of stopping the run and impacting the passing game.
Nathan Shepherd (UFA): As opposed to his teammate Sheldon Rankins, Shepherd had a disappointing season in 2022, especially as a run defender. This puts his future with the Jets in question, particularly if they choose to re-sign Rankins over him. It might make him available as a free agent who very well might benefit from a change of scenery.
Jerry Tillery (UFA): The former first-round draft pick, who was traded from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Las Vegas Raiders last season, would be a reclamation project — one that would likely come relatively cheap. The biggest question is where the 6-foot-6, 295-pounder would fit on the line; he might be a rotational 3-/5-technique end behind Deatrich Wise Jr. with a focus on interior pass rush.
The Patriots will likely not break the bank to possible replace the contributions they received from Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale the last two years. That said, it would still be interesting to see how the players on this list would look in a New England uniform and as part of a Bill Belichick-coached defense.
There are arguments to be made for all the free agents here, though. The Patriots are in the good position that they do not have to make any splash moves and can focus on the second tier of players should they opt to invest.