It’s time for the New England Patriots to fix up their defense after it flopped in the losses of four of their final five games of 2021.
When the going got tough, the Pats defense got lost this season. They failed to pick up a struggling Mac Jones and his offense, helped blow a top postseason position, and then were blown out by the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round.
New England’s defense started the season strong, faded quickly against tougher opposition, and then collapsed completely in the playoff demolition by the Bills. It’s clear heading into the offseason that some work needs to be done on that side of the ball.
The New England Patriots defensive line needs bolstering
Cap necessities will likely mean several key players of the past leaving Foxboro. First, let’s look at the defensive line.
Keepers are rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore, who is a star in the making. Davon Godchaux was a free agent who had a decent season with 65 tackles and a sack. Also, free agent pick-up Daniel Ekuale should be re-signed after he had a solid finish to the season.
These three and maybe a draft pick should make up the interior of the defensive line. Those who can be traded or released are Lawrence Guy, Dietrich Wise, and Carl Davis. The Patriots can easily replace their production.
The New England Patriots linebackers need a revamping
The linebacker/edge-rusher corps underachieved in 2021 save for Matthew Judon, even though he saw his production drop off late in the season, and Kyle Van Noy.
Van Noy had a decent season with 66 tackles, five sacks, and two forced fumbles. He can do better though, and he should be the anchor of the corps in 2022.
After those two, it’s clear that changes need to be made. Dont’a Hightower cost $12.4M on the salary cap in 2021. He didn’t live up to that sizeable paycheck. Absent a major reduction in salary, it will be time to part ways with Hightower.
Ja’Whaun Bentley is also a free agent. He’s a decent player, but he’s not really a linebacker for the 2022 NFL and he can also leave.
As for the rest of the edge players, fourth-year-man Chase Winovich took a step backward in his development and is trade bait at this point. Josh Uche has flashed at times, but he just isn’t consistent enough. A former second-round pick, he’ll be around, but who knows for how long. He’s been a bust so far.
2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins flopped and hardly saw the field, and 2021 fifth-round pick, Cameron McGrone was injured. Both will be expected to be contributors in 2022.
Impact additions in the draft and/or free agency are needed. Absent Judon and Van Noy, no one else did much to write home about.
New England Patriots need to add to their defensive backfield too
The Patriots best defensive, J.C. Jackson, is an unrestricted free agent. The team has to franchise him or see him walk and get a compensatory pick in return.
The team botched his situation to a fare-the-well. Jackson should have been signed after his second season to a team-friendly and player-friendly extension.
The Patriots brain trust did nothing and now they have to pay the price. This was personnel mismanagement at its worst. If Jackson goes, he’ll have to be replaced as the team’s No. 1 cornerback either with a top draft pick or a free agent.
Similar to Hightower, long-time stalwart Devin McCourty is at a crossroads. McCourty had a solid season, but the team cannot pay him anywhere near his salary cap hit of more than $11M in 2021. If he continues to play, a big pay cut is necessary.
Entering his age 35 season, he may be considering retiring. If he does, the Patriots should add him to their coaching staff immediately.
Former second-round pick Joejuan Williams has been a flop. He’s only logged 21 tackles with no interceptions in his three years. He should be traded or let go. He’s another top pick squandered by the team as was their 2019 first-round pick, N’Keal Harry. That was a great draft, indeed.
Hopefully, Shaun Wade, who was injured much of the season, and Myles Bryant can step up but an addition or two is definitely required here. Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills are solid and will be kept around but even with the return of Jonathan Jones, talent is thin.
Those are some thoughts on the 2022 Patriots defense. What do you think they should do?