Veterans Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga could be cap casualties, Armond Armstead didn’t take a single snap in 2013, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga and Cory Grissom and still unproven young players and Vince Wilfork’s status is completely up in the air coming off a torn Achilles.
The Patriots could decide they’re set at the position, however. Wilfork could be back to 100 percent after restructuring his contract, Kelly could come back from a torn ligament in his knee and the young players could step up. But that’s a lot of “what ifs” for a position that was a weak spot in the Patriots’ defense in 2013.
If New England wants to upgrade, here are five players available in free agency that could help.
Bryant has long been linked to the Patriots, who showed interest in the 323-pound defensive lineman before he signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. He was cut on Friday and could link back up with the Patriots.
Bryant shined in the Seahawks’ 4-3 under defense as a five-technique defensive end. He could play that same role if the Patriots move to a 3-4 defensive front. He could also serve as a run-stopping tackle in the Patriots’ 4-3 defense.
Chandler Jones’ older brother could serve a similar role as Bryant in the Patriots’ defense. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, he can play defensive end in a 3-4 or defensive tackle in a 4-3 depending on which “regular” defensive front the Patriots decide to run in 2014.
Jones isn’t an explosive pass rusher, but he can help solidify the Patriots’ run defense while providing some pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Jones has been hanging out with some Patriots players this offseason.
Bryant’s teammate with the Seahawks could serve as the Patriots’ third-down interior rusher. He excelled in that role with Seattle in 2013, providing 5.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 22 quarterback hurries.
The Patriots expected Armstead to serve this role in 2013, but he had offseason surgery to clear up an infection and was never able to return.
If the Patriots want to break the bank, they could look to Melton as an interior pass rusher. He’ll come with a slight discount, since he tore his ACL in September, but the Chicago Bears defensive tackle was one of the best in the game before his injury.
Melton had six sacks, five quarterback hits and 24 hurries in 2012.
Williams was once a premier three-technique defensive tackle, but age has caught up to the 11-year pro. Williams could be a signing in the same mold as Kelly. He’s older, looking for a Super Bowl ring and might be willing to take a discount on a one- or two-year deal.
Williams still had 3.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits and 14 hurries in 2013. He’s a six-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time All-Pro.