Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots are promising to add an impact player in free agency – on defense.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the Patriots should aggressively address the offense on the open market, considering their many needs on that side of the ball. But according to the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan and Doug Kyed, they’re looking to make room for “at least one elite defender who would start immediately” in free agency.

MORE: Patriots free agent tight end rumors

The market has morphed in recent days. Established high-end players have either hit the market due to cap issues with their teams, or been tagged. And that’s just on defense.

Free-agent edge defender Danielle Hunter could be a free-agent target of the New England Patriots. (Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)

Edge defender Danielle Hunter could be a free-agent target of the New England Patriots when NFL free agency kicks off. (Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)

Frankly, it’s a better, deeper market on that side of the ball than it is on offense. The Patriots would inevitably be overpaying someone at wide receiver, while the tackle market is both thin and top-heavy. So, if they intend to spend bigger than usual this off-season, it would be wise to allocate some space to a difference-maker(s) on defense.

And you can expect that defense to remain more-or-less the same under head coach Jerod Mayo. New defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington told reporters at his introductory press conference that the Pats’ defensive scheme won’t “change much” from what it was under Bill Belichick. With that in mind, you can expect the Patriots to add similar players that Belichick would off the open market.

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Here are five free-agent defenders the Patriots could target, who would both fill needs and make immediate impacts…

  • EDGE Danielle Hunter

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 10: Linebackers Danielle Hunter #99 and D.J. Wonnum #98 and defensive tackle Sheldon Day #52 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrate after Wonnum sacked quarterback Aidan O'Connell #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of their game at Allegiant Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Hunter can still make serious noise up front at age 29. He racked up 16.5 sacks in his contract year with the Minnesota Vikings, and led the NFL with 23 tackles for loss.

    The Patriots typically like their edge players to be well-rounded, and Hunter fits the bill as a guy who can defend against both the pass and the run. And Hunter can line up on the left end, making him a dynamic complement to Matthew Judon.

  • DT Christian Wilkins

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 11: Christian Wilkins #94 of the Miami Dolphins sacks Will Levis #8 of the Tennessee Titans in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 11, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    The Patriots deployed Lawrence Guy up front for years, and now they have an opening after releasing the veteran defensive lineman. As a three-down interior defender, Wilkins would be a mighty big fish to catch, after logging nine sacks and 23 QB hits for the Dolphins in 2023. Wilkins is also a stout run defender.

    Paired with the Pats’ other Christian, Barmore? That would put them in the conversation for the league’s best defensive front.

  • ILB Devin White

    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 01: Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after recovering a fumble during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    The Patriots should be in the market for an off-ball linebacker, with Mack Wilson Sr. set to become a free agent and no suitable fits at that spot remaining on the roster. White is coming off a bit of a down year in Tampa Bay, as his counting stats fell off his usual pace. But he did post the best opposing passer rating of his career at 83.0, thanks to two interceptions (via Pro Football Focus), and can still rush the passer up the middle as well as anyone at his position.

    White could come at something of a discount as something of a post-hype player. But his past performance for the Bucs defense, when they played more big games with Tom Brady, should count for something. He’d fill a pressing need for the Patriots, with the upside to make a real impact over the middle of the field.

  • FS Justin Simmons

    DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 18: Justin Simmons #31 of the Denver Broncos carries the ball after an interception against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter of the game at Empower Field At Mile High on December 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Broncos recently released Simmons, and don’t mistake that as a statement on him as a player. Denver is in a serious crunch after also releasing quarterback Russell Wilson, and needs a financial reset. So, Simmons, who was due a base salary of $14.4 million in 2024, became a casualty.

    That said, Simmons is still an impact free safety at age 30. He was named a second team All-Pro for the third straight year in 2023. He would finally fill the void left by the retired Devin McCourty as a true “center fielder” and deep safety for the Patriots. Simmons can do what Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, and Adrian Phillips could not.

  • CB Chidobe Awuzie

    CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 25: Chidobe Awuzie #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Ben Skowronek #18 of the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter in the game at Paycor Stadium on September 25, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Awuzie may not necessarily qualify as “elite,” but he is certainly a starting cornerback at the NFL level. On the Patriots, he’d be the No. 2 opposite budding star corner Christian Gonzalez.

    As a 6-foot, 202-pound corner who can both cover and tackle on the perimeter, Awuzie would check some boxes for New England. Signing him should cost less than the very top of the market, and should not preclude the Patriots from signing more of a game-changer at another position.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Check out all of Matt’s content.

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