By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
There’s a trio of veteran NFL defenders hitting the open market. They’re all intriguing options for the Patriots, but don’t necessarily fill pressing needs. How likely would Bill Belichick be to take a shot on them?
He doesn’t exactly yearn for a veteran presence on defense, unless he moves on from both Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower and for some reason he also jettisons Patrick Chung, Adrian Clayborn, and Lawrence Guy. They’ve had continuity in top leadership roles, making added wisdom a luxury more than a necessity.
But that hasn’t stopped Belichick from injecting more of it into the locker room. He signed Clayborn to a two-year deal last offseason and traded for Devin McCourty’s twin brother, Jason. Other notable veteran additions on defense include James Harrison in 2017, Chris Long in 2016, and Alan Branch in 2014.
NFL free agency starts next Wednesday, March 13. Three veteran additions cannonballed into the pool with recent moves, and any of them could pique Belichick’s interest. Particularly because they are closer to age 30 than 20 and likely wouldn’t command deals longer than 1-2 years. Belichick loves a good deal that lets him squeeze whatever’s left out of the sponge.
Here’s a quick look at three veterans to watch for, who could end up in Foxborough for the right contract.
LB Justin Houston, Chiefs. Kansas City is expected to release Houston if they can’t find a trade partner, which sounds highly unlikely. Teams aren’t going to absorb what could be the main reason for the inevitable cut: Houston’s $15.25 million salary and $21.1 million cap hit. Houston isn’t the premier pass rusher he was when he racked up 22 sacks in 2014, but he’s still quite effective – he generated 9 sacks in just 12 games in 2018 as a 29-year-old. Houston may not come as cheaply as other veteran pass rushers and could convince a team to push for a third year, but he’s already cashed in with a megadeal and this time could relish the chance to play in a Super Bowl for Belichick. At worst, he’d be a cost-effective fallback plan for losing Trey Flowers that provides leadership as the next generation continues to develop. At best, he’d elevate himself as a Darrelle Revis-like addition who makes a major impact.
S Eric Weddle, Ravens. The veteran safety confirmed himself that he is no longer a Raven after the news broke on Tuesday. He is long in the tooth at age 34. He’s also long in the beard, which is cool. The real problem here is that the Patriots need leadership the least at safety, and could actually stand to get younger at the position. But if Weddle is willing to take an affordable one-year deal for a better chance to win a championship, perhaps Belichick would take him. Weddle is reportedly looking to decide quickly in order to beat next week’s free agent rush, and could be setting up visits as we speak. Belichick would at least know he’s going to show up every day, work his ass off, lead by example, and do his job on Sundays. Oh and he’s durable, too – only three games missed in the last nine seasons.
LB Mark Barron, Rams. Los Angeles is moving on from Barron with an eye toward making more splashes in free agency. You may remember Barron from Super Bowl LIII, when Rob Gronkowski dusted him for a catch-and-run over the middle. His production has dropped off in recent seasons and he’s struggled to stay healthy, too – he has dealt with lingering Achilles and shoulder injuries. But Barron, who entered the league as a safety, could complement Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower as an inside linebacker and replicate some of Patrick Chung’s skillset in a hybrid role. Considering his recent injuries, he’s not likely to get more than a one-year deal. But he’s a tough, versatile player whom Belichick could put in positions to succeed.
Belichick has almost made a habit of bringing aboard at least one veteran on the defensive side of the ball. With the defense likely to lose a key weapon with more significant turnover possible, don’t be surprised if the Patriots decide to ride one of these guys for a year or two.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.