The New England Patriots’ need for defensive leadership and linebacker depth increased Tuesday when longtime captain Jerod Mayo announced his retirement via Instagram.
Before Mayo walked away from football, there was little chance the linebacker would return to the Patriots on his current contract — he would have carried a cap hit over $11 million — but there was a possibility he would have been back on a price cut to provide depth and serve as a captain.
With Mayo out of the picture now, though, the Patriots are left with Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as starters and Jon Bostic, Darius Fleming, Dane Fletcher, Jonathan Freeny, Kevin Snyder and James Vaughters as reserves. The Patriots also likely will bring back special-teamer Brandon King as an exclusive-rights free agent.
The Patriots could get by with that group of reserves if Hightower and Collins stay healthy, but both players missed four games in 2015, and Hightower also missed four games in 2014. The Patriots likely will bring in a third starting-caliber linebacker either through free agency or the draft.
Mayo’s retirement freed up $6.475 million in salary cap room, leaving New England with $13 million and change in cap room. Most of that money likely will be used to extend Collins and other defensive free agents who will hit the open market after the 2016 season, but the Patriots also could spend it on available free agents.
The top soon-to-be-available free-agent linebackers are Danny Trevathan, Derrick Johnson, Jerrell Freeman, Bruce Irvin, Mark Barron and Rolando McClain. The Patriots showed interest in McClain last offseason before he scorned them for the Dallas Cowboys. Trevathan seems like a classic Patriots player, but he’ll also cost a pretty penny.
New England recently hired former Ohio State linebacker Camren Williams as a scouting assistant. Two of his college teammates, Darron Lee and Josh Perry, are in this year’s draft class and could fit the Patriots’ need at linebacker if they fall to the second round.
The Patriots’ linebacker situation is far from dire, since Hightower and Collins make up perhaps the NFL’s best starting duo. But given their lack of other major offseason needs, acquiring a linebacker should be looked at as a priority before training camp begins in late July.
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