The Patriots released a pair of young former starters along the defensive line this week, and regardless of the reasoning for the two moves it has left a bit of a hole on the depth chart up front on defense in New England.
Former seventh-round pick Brandon Deaderick was let go on May 13 and subsequently claimed off waivers by Jacksonville after serving as the Patriots starting defensive tackle in the final five regular season contests and two playoff games last fall. Reports have indicated that Deaderick, who was suspended for one game previously in his New England career, may have been released due to issues with his work ethic.
While Deaderick was a role and depth player working next to a guy like All-Pro Vince Wilfork, his departure was a mild surprise, especially considering the timing. That timing became even more curious on May 15, when New England released Kyle Love. Love had started 11 games for the Patriots last fall, 24 over the last two seasons, and had reached a contract extension with a $500,000 signing bonus with the team just last summer.
Love had apparently been diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes in recent weeks and was released with a non-football injury designation. He'd lost significant weight this offseason, but his agent has indicated that the former undrafted player is by no means giving up on his career. Despite the diagnosis, the agent claims that Love will be able to do the job asked of him in training camp if/when he lands with another team.
Though that last part is debatable – it's hard to imagine a person with Type-2 diabetes being advised that maintaining a weight of 315-plus pounds is in his best interests health-wise – one thing that's not up for debate is that the defensive tackle spot in New England is going to look very different in 2013. Though lesser in importance, the Patriots had previously released former draft picks Ron Brace (second round, 2009) and Myron Pryor (sixth round, 2009).
That's four young bodies who'd seemingly been groomed to serve as sidekicks to the defensive line star Wilfork who've been removed from the equation, and the depth chart, in the last couple months.
So where does that leave the interior of the defensive front?
Durable veteran free agent addition Tommy Kelly will clearly be leaned on. Though he'll turn 33 in December, Kelly started all 16 games in each of the last five seasons with the Raiders.
Another free agent addition, CFL import and former USC star Armond Armstead, is also an option. Though he's not built in a true nose tackle form like Love, Armstead has played all over the front in both college and Canada.
Other options include a trio of undrafted players in first-year prospect Marcus Forston and rookie free agents Cory Grissom and Dewayne Cherrington. Forston was on the Patriots active roster to begin and end last season, and on the team's practice squad in between those stints. Grissom was considered one of the better prospects not taken in this year's draft.
Justin Francis may also have some interior versatility in his second season, although the second-year former undrafted player is undersized for too many reps on the inside.
Many fans have also speculated that the moves could signal a return to the 3-4. While being multiple up front is always a possibility with Belichick, I don't think the 3-4 is back. The personnel doesn't seem like a good fit at this point. New England lacks ideal candidates for the Richard Seymour-like role at 3-4 end, while there would actually be an abundance of linebackers that would leave a potential top talent like Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones or Dont'a Hightower without a starting job.
There is always the chance and likelihood that team will add a veteran body or two at the tackle spot in the coming weeks. New England has a pair of roster spots open and there are still veterans on the market, including Seymour himself.
Clearly the defensive front is going through some changes right now. But given that the mainstay Wilfork remains entrenched in the defensive trenches – and given the addition of the impressive veteran Kelly – it's not quite the dramatic overhauling that's happening on the other side of the ball at receiver.
What do you think of the changes at defensive tackle? Are you concerned about a lack of depth on the defensive front? Would you sign Seymour? Let us know with a comment below!