The new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 15, and with it, the advent of 2023's free agency marketplace. Leading up to that day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective. Today, we analyze the linebackers.
NOTABLE EXTERNAL FREE AGENTS: Zach Cunningham (TEN), Devin Bush (PIT), Lavonte David (TB), Tremaine Edmunds (BUF), Rashaan Evans (ATL).
Last year the Patriots acquired linebacker Mack Wilson from the Browns via trade and had signed Raekwon McMillan to an extension though he was lost for the season early in 2021's training camp. The duo offered some intriguing potential heading into 2022 that never really materialized. McMillan played just 23 percent of the defensive snaps, though he picked up a fumble for a touchdown and also had an interception. Wilson played 21 percent of the defensive snaps and mostly contributed on special teams as well, the same limited role that he had with the Browns.
Both McMillan and Wilson are free agents and do still seem like possibilities to return even if they didn't set the world on fire last season.
In-season the team extended Jahlani Tavai for two more years in a sign that the team still prefers their off-the-ball linebackers to major in size and physicality. Tavai had a career year, playing half the defensive snaps and emerging as the latest versatile inside/outside linebacker in New England. He was a nice complement for Ja’Whaun Bentley who had his most productive season in 2022 with three sacks, 125 total tackles and led the team with 47 stops.
The depth behind Bentley and Tavai is largely unproven, with veteran Terez Hall returning to the mix this offseason, veteran special teamer Calvin Munson, and Olakunle Fatukasi, a 2022 undrafted rookie who spent time with the Bucs and Broncos before landing in New England.
Thus it seems the team needs at least one more off-the-ball 'backer in the mix, perhaps one with the athletic potential that Wilson and McMillan brought to the fold last year. But is that role worth a big splash in free agency? It seems more ideally a good starting place for a mobile rookie linebacker, but let's take a look at some of the big names on the market.
Zach Cunningham has bounced around a bit but has good athletic potential, and everyone knows Devin Bush has similar traits as does Lavonte David. Rashaan Evans has disappointed since being a 2018 first-rounder, but his Alabama pedigree can't be ignored.
The most appealing of the class though has to be Tremaine Edmunds, who is still under 25 and is a big, mobile linebacker who seems to fit the Patriots mold with plus movement skills. He's projected to make $11 million per year on his next deal. Bentley and Tavai are both making in the $1-2 million range so locking up Edmunds would be a major change.