The new NFL year begins Wednesday, March 14, and with it, the advent of 2018’s free agent marketplace. Leading up to that first day, we’ll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective, continuing with another potentially important position group for New England: linebacker.
PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS
James Harrison (OLB), Marquis Flowers (OLB), Brandon King
OTHER NOTABLE NFL FREE AGENTS
Outside ‘backers: Sam Acho (Chicago Bears), Connor Barwin (LA Rams), Tahir Whitehead (Detroit Lions), Shaquil Barrett (Denver Broncos, Restricted FA)
Inside ‘backers: Navorro Bowman (Oakland Raiders), Preston Brown (Buffalo Bills), Demario Davis (NY Jets), Anthony Hitchens (Dallas Cowboys)
Whitehead, Brown, Davis, Bowman, Avery Williamson (Tennessee Titans)
When the already-thin-at-LB Patriots lost co-captain Dont’a Hightower to a pectoral muscle injury last season, they were left without a reliable playmaker at the position. Both on the inside and the outside, this team needs more talent and depth at the position, and there are several options from which to choose in free agency this offseason.
It’s entirely conceivable that New England could re-sign all three of its own free agents at this position (although in King's case, he's primarily a special teams contributor, not a defender). Also, with so many former Patriots linebackers on the market this offseason (Akeem Ayers, Jon Bostic, Jonathan Casillas, Barkevious Mingo, to name a handful), it wouldn’t be stunning if any of them returned to Foxborough. However, none of them would constitute a truly “impact” signing.
Such a description could be applied to the likes Bowman or Hitchens. The latter might be looking for a bigger payday than New England might like to offer, though, which makes Bowman a more likely target. Though on the older side (29), Bowman has never won a Super Bowl and might be tempted by the prospect of going back to the title game with a team like New England.
Realistically, the Patriots might be more interested in a player with whom they’re more familiar – say a Brown or Davis, both of whom come from AFC East teams and have been productive in their young careers.
Whitehead and Williamson are two more players entering their prime who have considerable starting experience in the NFL and could immediately play significant roles on the Patriots’ defense.
On the outside, veterans like Acho and Barwin might not be glamorous signings, but they could provide much-needed rotational depth and experience.