The New England Patriots knew they were going to be short on cap space coming into the offseason after their spending spree last year. And up today, the front office hadn’t done much of anything to clear up cap space to bring in some free agents.
The move that kicked things off this afternoon was the release of Kyle Van Noy. It wasn’t as if Van Noy was bad last season, but the Patriots are looking to get younger on defense this offseason, and moving on from Van Noy was necessary in order to accomplish that. Releasing Van Noy also saved the Pats a little over $4 million in cap space, which was much needed to say the least.
While the cap space is crucial, moving on from Van Noy has helped further clarify New England’s offseason plans. They realized they were simply too slow on defense last offseason, and this release of Van Noy shows they understand that. It appears a change of guard is going to be ushered in at the linebacker position this offseason, which could end up being just what the Patriots defense needs.
The New England Patriots are set to revamp their linebacker corps with Kyle Van Noy release
The release of Van Noy, while important, isn’t the most important piece of this equation. Van Noy was solid last season as a do-it all linebacker (66 tackles, 5 sacks, 10 passes deflected, 2 fumbles forced, 1 interception), but his play dipped towards the end of the season. He appeared a step slow at times, and that cost the Patriots mightily.
Van Noy will be 31 next season and was set to be a $7.3 million cap hit next season. While his play was good, he simply wasn’t worth that amount. Saving $4.1 million was more worthwhile than forking over a pretty hefty fee for an aging linebacker who may have begun to regress.
The move from Van Noy though shows the front office’s intentions. Pretty much everyone else in the linebacker rotation (Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins) is about to hit free agency, meaning the group could have a completely different look come next season. While that’s a bit scary, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
At this point, it seems highly unlikely Hightower will be sticking around considering Van Noy just got released. Unless Hightower is willing to take an extremely cheap deal, he’s just not what this team needs anymore. He was a step behind everyone else from the get go last season, and there’s no reason to invest in him anymore.
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Collins didn’t really do much after being picked up at midseason, and it’s clear his best days are behind him. Bentley is the only real option to re-sign, but considering he’s coming off the best season of his career, he may not be attainable. In that sense, it could be a complete change of guard at linebacker for the New England Patriots.
Again, this isn’t really a bad thing. The linebacker group looked horrid towards the end of the season, and asides from Bentley, there’s no reason to worry about potentially losing Van Noy, Hightower, and Collins. They are going to be replaced this offseason one way or another.
This could open up the opportunity for New England to pursue one of the top linebackers in free agency, De’Vondre Campbell. Campbell just had a breakout season in his first campaign with the Green Bay Packers, but considering their cap situation and their need to figure things out with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, they probably aren’t going to be able to re-sign him.
Teams may be wary of Campbell’s breakout year considering he hadn’t done anything similar over his first five seasons, meaning he could look for a cheaper, shorter term deal so he could really cash in a bit later. A one or two year deal for around $10 million per year could be all it takes to land the All-Pro linebacker, and he’d be a perfect fit in New England’s defense.
The New England Patriots also are probably going to attack this position in the draft, even if they make some additions in free agency. They could invest their first rounder in a guy like Nakobe Dean or Devin Lloyd if they fall to them at the 21st overall pick, but they could also trade out of the first round entirely and invest a couple of midround picks at the position. If they signed a top guy like Campbell, the latter is more likely.
While losing a fan favorite such as Van Noy stinks, it’s necessary in making the Patriots better for the future. They need to get younger, and one of the positions that was heavily exposed towards the end of the season was the linebacker spot. Moving on from Van Noy was just the first move to be made, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more pieces from the 2021 linebacker crew depart shortly.