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NFL free agency 2023: What re-signing defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale means for the Patriots

The 29-year-old signed a two-year contract to stay put.

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NFL: New England Patriots Training Camp Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

With the exception of defensive backs Devin McCourty (retirement) and Jalen Mills (release), the New England Patriots have kept their defense together through free agency. That process also involved re-signed interior lineman Daniel Ekuale: the 29-year-old signed a new two-year pact with the club on Friday — a move that was quickly overshadowed by the Patriots also signing former Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.

Despite flying under the radar a bit as a result of the Gesicki acquisition less than 30 minutes later, the decision to keep Ekuale was a good one. Here’s why, and what it means to New England in the grand scheme of things.

The Patriots keep their fifth-most disruptive pass rusher in the fold. Ekuale’s role in 2022 is rather easily explained: he was a pass rusher first and foremost, with more than three fourths of his snaps (78.2% to be exact) seeing him go after the opposing passer. He was not world-beater, but did provide some valuable depth in a season that saw Christian Barmore miss seven games due to a nagging knee injury.

Seeing increased opportunities during Barmore’s absence, Ekuale played some serviceable football that allowed him to finish the year ranked fifth on the Patriots in quarterback pressures: per Pro Football Focus, he had 22 of them in his 15 games.

He is best suited to be used in a rotational capacity, but did well when called upon. In addition, he also showed some improvements against the run.

New England’s defensive tackle group is staying intact. While the final details of Ekuale’s contract have yet to be reported, we do know that he will be signed through the 2024 season. This gives the Patriots some impressive stability along their interior defensive line.

In fact, only two of the eight players currently under contract are on one-year deals:

  • 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
  • Daniel Ekuale: 29 | Signed through 2024
  • Carl Davis Jr.: 31 | Signed through 2023
  • Sam Roberts: 24 | Signed through 2025
  • Jeremiah Pharms Jr.: 26 | Signed through 2023

While those contract lengths alone will not prevent the Patriots from making adjustments if need be, in theory the club is well-set along its D-line now that Ekuale has been re-signed as well. That said...

More investments at the position could still be in the cards. Despite Ekuale’s new deal, his contributions as an interior pass rusher, and the general composition of the Patriots’ defensive tackle group, adding more depth to the position could very well happen. There is some room for improvement at one particular spot, after all: the nose.

While Carl Davis has played some solid football at the 0-technique, neither his contract nor his play in the past make him a lock to be on the team this fall. As a result, New England adding a higher-upside big-bodied player, possibly through the draft, would make sense.

Such a move, however, would have little impact on Ekuale.

The move also has an impact on the kicking game. The Patriots did not re-sign Ekuale because of his abilities or role in the game’s third phase. That said, he still has value as a member of the field goal and extra point blocking teams. As such, he was on the field for 57 snaps throughout the 2022 season — 57 snaps the team does not need to find elsewhere now.