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Free Agent Forecast: Defensive Line

free-agent-forecast-20190307

The new NFL year begins Wednesday, March 13, and with it, the advent of 2019’s free agent marketplace. Leading up to that first day, we’ll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective, continuing with the defensive linemen (tackles and ends).

PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS

Trey Flowers (DE), John Simon (DE), Malcom Brown (DT), Danny Shelton (DT)

OTHER NOTABLE NFL FREE AGENTS

Ends: Bruce Irvin (Atlanta Falcons), Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers), Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions), Muhammad Wilkerson (Green Bay Packers), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), Alex Okafor (New Orleans Saints), Margus Hunt (Indianapolis Colts),

Tackles: Sheldon Richardson (Minnesota Vikings), Brandon Mebane (L.A. Chargers), Johnathan Hankins (Oakland Raiders), Shamar Stephen (Seattle Seahawks)

POSSIBLE PATRIOTS

Ends: Flowers, Simon, Wilkerson, Wake, Michael Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals),

Tackles: Shelton, Richardson, Stephen, Jordan Phillips (Buffalo Bills)

ANALYSIS

New England elected not to use its 2019 franchise tag on any of its free agents, meaning Flowers will have a chance to test the market for his services. Dallas and Seattle used theirs on Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark, respectively, which could bolster Flowers’ offers, as there will be fewer pass rushers available. It’s not inconceivable that Flowers could decide to remain in Foxborough, but that eventuality is by no means a guarantee.

Should the former Patriots draft choice wind up elsewhere this spring, New England will need to look elsewhere for pass-rush help. That could lead them to one-time AFC East foe Wilkerson (formerly of the New York Jets). The 29-year-old missed virtually all of last year, his one season as a Packer, after injuring an ankle that required two surgeries. He could be an attractive option at a reasonable price.

Though much older at 37, Wake is a player who’s given the Patriots fits over the years as a career Miami Dolphin. Perhaps the Super Bowl champs can convince him to make a legitimate run at a ring by joining them in Foxborough. If an under-the-radar veteran is on the Patriots’ list, Johnson could be that Adrian Clayborn-type of signing. Durable and productive at age 32, Johnson might be just the type of player they need at the right point in his career.

Meanwhile, Simon pleasantly surprised as an in-season acquisition during the 2018 campaign, so, it wouldn’t surprise me if the club is interested in keeping him around.

At d-tackle, the pickings are slimmer, figuratively speaking. Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett was perhaps the biggest prize, but the Falcons franchised him at the 11th hour.

Brown, New England’s former first-round draft choice, didn’t get his fifth-year option picked up a year ago, which likely spelled the beginning of the end of his time at Gillette. Shelton contributed little throughout 2018, but played his most significant role in Super Bowl LIII. I wouldn’t rule out a return by Shelton.

Youth and depth are needed by New England at this position, which makes former Jet Richardson an intriguing possibility. Unheralded players are often where the Patriots look, however. With that in mind, names like Hankins, Stephen, and former Dolphin Phillips, who played with Buffalo last season, can’t be overlooked.

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