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Patriots 2023 free agency targets: 8 edge defenders New England might be interested in

The Patriots’ edge is in solid shape, but that does not mean no investment will be made.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The defensive edge is not a massive priority for the New England Patriots this offseason; the group was a disruptive one a year ago while led by Pro Bowler Matthew Judon and 2022 breakout player Josh Uche, and has all of its members under contract for the upcoming season. That said, the Patriots are always looking to improve and this group should not be an exception.

Before taking a look at free agent targets that might help do that, let’s assess what the team has:

  • Matthew Judon: 30 | Signed through 2024
  • Josh Uche: 24 | Signed through 2023
  • Anfernee Jennings: 25 | Signed through 2023
  • Ronnie Perkins: 23 | Signed through 2024
  • DaMarcus Mitchell: 24 | Signed through 2024

Judon is the clear-cut No. 1 edge, and offers more to the team than just his pass-rushing prowess: he also is able to shut down the edge in the running game — a skill high on the Patriots’ list of priorities. Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche, meanwhile, are not as well-rounded: the former is a good run-stopper on the edge but lacks pass-rushing prowess, with the latter almost exclusively used as a sub rushers in 2022.

Ronnie Perkins and DaMarcus Mitchell, on the other hand, did not factor into the mix on defense last season. Perkins missed all year due to injury, while Mitchell’s focus was on special teams rather than his listed position.

What all of this shows is that there are some questions outside Judon, and that the Patriots might benefit from finding a starter-level player to insert into the lineup opposite him — something that would allow both Jennings and Uche to focus on their core strengths as package players, and lighten the workload for defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who kicked out to an end-of-line spot repeatedly last year.

So, with that said, let’s therefore take a look at the free agent edge class:

Tarell Basham (UFA): The Patriots know Basham from his time with the New York Jets, but the 28-year-old has since also played in Dallas and Tennessee. Despite not finding a permanent home in any of these cities, New England might bring him in due to his experience and ability to both rush the passer and set a hard edge.

Bud Dupree (UFA): Injuries ruined Dupree’s tenure in Tennessee after he had signed a five-year, $82.5 million pact in 2021. Is he physically able to bounce back and make it through a whole season? It might be worth a gamble, especially given that the former first-round pick likely carries but a small-ish price tag.

Clelin Ferrell (UFA): The Patriots have never shied away from taking fliers on former first-round draft picks who failed to live up to expectations. The fourth overall draft pick in 2019, Ferrell clearly falls in that category — which might make him a low-cost option worth considering for a rotational role alongside Matthew Judon and company.

Rasheem Green (UFA): Coming off a solid season in Houston, Green enters free agency with some momentum on his side. It will likely not translate into a big-money contract, but a team like the Patriots might still take a look at him due to his good size and well-rounded skillset.

Al-Quadin Muhammad (UFA): After one season in Chicago, Muhammad is already on his way out; he is expected to be released, meaning that he too will not count against the compensatory draft picks formula. He is primarily an edge, but also offers experience moving inside on select downs. The Patriots would welcome a player of that versatility.

Anthony Nelson (UFA): One of the more interesting names to enter free agency at the edge position this year. Nelson has shown significant growth in his four years in the NFL, and the former fourth-round draft pick offers value as a starter-level player: he can effectively set the edge on early downs, and go after the quarterback in passing situations.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (UFA): Nick Caserio and the Houston Texans picked him up on a one-year deal in 2022, and the investment paid dividends: Okoronkwo registered five sacks and was stout against the run as well. The 6-foot-2, 253-pounder might be on the shorter side for edge defenders in New England’s system, but he has shown he can play and would likely look good opposite Matthew Judon.

Andrew Van Ginkel (UFA): A fifth-round pick in 2019, Van Ginkel combines experience, versatility, special teams prowess and a knack for the football. He is a solid player but given Miami’s deep edge would likely get a better shot at regular playing time elsewhere. That elsewhere might just be one of his old team’s division rivals.

The Patriots have a solid foundation in place on the edge, but adding one of the players listed here — the last three have “New England” written all over them — would make sense. The organization will likely not break the bank, which might disqualify somebody like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, but it knows about the value a stout edge presents in the overall composition of a defense.

The Patriots making a bigger splash than one would anticipate could therefore certainly happen.