While only two teams remain left standing in the NFL playoffs, the New England Patriots embark on a franchise-altering journey through the offseason.
In multiple aspects, they are very much starting from scratch. Parting ways with head coach and quasi-general manager Bill Belichick after 24 seasons, the rebuild is impacting all levels of the organization — from the coaching staff, to the personnel department, to the roster.
To start our offseason coverage, we will take a look at that latter part and analyze New England’s roster one position at a time. What is on the table coming off the 2023 season, what might be in store for 2024, and where the strengths and weaknesses lie. Today, the series continues along the defensive edge.
Position depth chart
Matthew Judon (32 | signed through 2024): Having made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons as a Patriot, Judon appeared well set to return to the all-star showcase again in Year 3. After registering four sacks and a safety in his first three games, however, he suffered a biceps injury in the fourth. There was optimism that Judon might return later down the stretch, but New England kept him sideline for the rest of the season.
Anfernee Jennings (26 | UFA): Jennings’ fourth season started quiet, but he was given an opportunity for increased snaps after Matthew Judon’s season-ending injury. He made the most of it. While he only registered 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery, the former third-round draft pick played some very good football against the run and was a key piece of a defense among the best in the NFL at stopping the opposing ground game. His 13 tackles for loss in the run game clearly led the team.
Josh Uche (25 | UFA): Coming off a supposed breakout campaign, Uche had less of an impact on the Patriots’ pass rush in 2023. Appearing in 15 games, he registered only three total quarterback takedowns down from 11.5 the year before. That being said, his 37 total pressures — sacks plus hits and hurries — ranked second on the team behind only Christian Barmore’s 49. He was disruptive, he just didn’t get home on as consistent a basis as he did the previous year.
William Bradley-King (26 | signed through 2024): Bradley-King started his season in Washington, bouncing between the Commanders’ practice squad and active roster without seeing any game action. In late October, the Patriots signed him to their own practice squad and he remained there for the rest of the year before signing a reserve/futures contract in January.
The Patriots have shown themselves to be quite flexible when it comes to player usage on the edge. Interior options such as Deatrich Wise Jr. and Keion White have kicked outside in the past, while off-ball-linebackers such as Mack Wilson and Jahlani Tavai have moved to the line as well on occasion. Wise Jr., White and Tavai remain under contract for 2024, and their presence does help bolster the overall edge depth beyond the players listed here.
While the offensive side of the ball is very much in the spotlight this offseason and upgrading clearly the team’s biggest need, there are other spots that have to be addressed as well. The defensive edge is one of those, and as such an under-the-radar priority.
Looking at the list of players above — and putting those hybrid options mentioned aside for the moment — we can see that only two remain signed for the upcoming season: a 31-year-old Matthew Judon coming off a stint on injured reserve, and practice squad member William Bradley-King.
Judon has shown he can be a difference maker for the Patriots, and his $14.68 million cap hit is still reasonable this year. Unless the team decides to make him available via trade (and there are arguments to be made in that regard), he should be good to lead the group into 2024. Who will join him, however, is yet to be decided.
We know that the aforementioned Deatrich Wise Jr., Keion White and Jahlani Tavai factor into the mix, but they are not traditional edge players. Of those, Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche are both set to enter the open market for the first time in their respective careers.
The Patriots retaining one if not both would therefore make sense, especially given Judon’s uncertain future. Jennings probably enjoys priority status among them due to his more well-rounded skillset on early downs and better consistency on a game-to-game basis. Uche, meanwhile, has had intriguing flashes as a pass rusher but was largely quiet again in 2023 and with Judon not grabbing attention opposite him.
New England does have the resources to retain both, to bring in outside reinforcements, and to generate more flexibility with Judon due to a possible contract extension (there are arguments in favor of that, too). Regardless of what happens, though, something’s got to give.