New England Patriots Free Agent Grades: Bentley’s re-signing a huge win

Ja'Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Ja'Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots haven’t done much to inspire confidence so far this offseason. While other AFC teams are loading up for the foreseeable future, the Patriots have mainly lurked in the shadows, re-signing their key players while bringing in a few external free agents too.

Unfortunately, a patient strategy is what should have been expected from most Patriots fans this offseason. The Pats don’t have a ton of cap space after spending like crazy last offseason, and that has been quite evident by their lack of activity in free agency. There’s no sense to act like going all in on one player will instantly make this team a championship contender, because that’s just not true, and that’s the strategy the front office has employed early on.

While watching other teams make huge blockbuster trades can be a bit frustrating, the moves the Patriots have made so far have generally been very solid. They have maintained some of the key leaders of their locker room, such as Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, and James White, all on team-friendly deals nonetheless. They have also begun to unload some of the dead weight at the bottom of the roster with the trade of Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns.

Arguably the best move of the offseason was made this afternoon however when the team re-signed Ja’Whaun Bentley to a two year, $9 million deal. Bentley was the team’s leading tackler last season, and he appears set to takeover for Dont’a Hightower at the center of the defense now. Keeping Bentley in town was crucial to helping the defense keep their identity, and he could end up being a key piece that helps the unit improve over the next few seasons.

Ja’Whaun Bentley set to be a crucial piece in the New England Patriots defense

Heading into the offseason, I tabbed Bentley as one of the most crucial players that the team needed to re-sign in free agency. Some were confused because Bentley doesn’t necessarily make huge plays every single game or do stuff that jumps off the stat sheet, but he’s as consistent as they come, and he’s only gotten better with each passing season.

Bentley’s 2021 campaign was easily the best of his career. He led the Patriots in tackles with 109, while also picking up five tackles for a loss, five QB hits, one sack, and three forced fumbles. Bentley looked much more comfortable playing alongside Hightower after being thrust into his role in 2020, and by the end of the season he looked ready to replace Hightower in 2022.

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Now Bentley will get his shot. Hightower looks likely to depart at this point, and Bentley can step in and fill his role. Bentley isn’t necessarily the do-it all linebacker that Hightower was at his prime yet, but he very well may be making his way there. Bentley is a downhill linebacker who is great against the run, and while he isn’t a fantastic coverage linebacker yet, he was much better in 2021 than he was in 2020.

Whereas Bentley is a really solid run defender and tackler, recent trade acquisition Mack Wilson is a bit more of an all-around linebacker. He’s a solid tackler who can cover too, and he pretty much does everything that is asked of him. The key is going to be finding a way to make more explosive plays on a regular basis for him.

With Bentley and Wilson in tow now, the New England Patriots plans at linebacker are starting to become clearer. They could probably add another player at the position if they wanted to, but with Cameron McGrone and Raekwon McMillan figuring to get a shot during Training Camp too, this may be what the inside linebacker room looks like heading into the season.

This also has repurcussions for the draft, where it appears unlikely New England will use their first round draft pick on a linebacker now. Players like Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd, who were considered fits at the 21st pick potentially, probably aren’t going to be considered now. There are suddenly bigger needs, such as cornerback and the offensive line, that need to be addressed with the first round pick.

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Re-signing Bentley fills a huge need in the middle of the New England Patriots defense, and for only $4.5 million per year. Bentley has experience in the system and only continues to get better. With inside linebacker now addressed, the Pats can focus on shoring up some other areas of their roster, making this deal a huge win for New England in a couple of ways.