Next up in our New England Patriots free agent profile series: defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.
The 2017 season was a turbulent campaign for Ricky Jean Francois, who was cut four times by three teams before finally finding a steady role in New England.
Once he settled into that role, though, the veteran D-lineman became a valuable and unexpected contributor for a Patriots team that fell one win short of a Super Bowl title.
A quick recap of Jean Francois’ journey over the past year:
March 15: Released by the Washington Redskins
March 24: Signed with the Green Bay Packers
Sept. 12: Released by the Packers
Sept. 21: Re-signed with the Packers
Nov. 1: Released by the Packers a second time
Nov. 7: Signed with the Patriots
Dec. 2: Released by the Patriots
Dec. 13: Re-signed with the Patriots
Jean Francois’ first Patriots stint was largely unremarkable — three games, two tackles — and they released him in early December to make room for promoted practice-squadders Geneo Grissom and Bernard Reedy.
An injury to defensive tackle Alan Branch in Week 14 prompted New England to bring Jean Francois back in, however, and the 31-year-old made the most of his second chance. In his first game after re-signing, he tallied six tackles in a dramatic win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and before long, he’d snatched Branch’s spot away from him.
Branch never returned to the lineup even after his injured knee healed, spending the rest of the season as a healthy scratch.
Jean Francois is set to hit free agency March 14. Given how well he played down the stretch, and since he likely won’t cost much, the Patriots should consider re-signing him, especially if they choose to cut the disappointing Branch.
Let’s take a closer look at Jean Francois’ 2017 season and his chances of returning to New England in 2018.
2017 stats: 10 tackles, two tackles for loss in six regular-season games with Patriots; six tackles, one sack in three playoff games
Highlight of the season: His six tackles against the Steelers. Jean Francois also tallied a sack in the divisional-round win over the Tennessee Titans (one of eight the Patriots’ defense had that night) and had five tackles in the AFC Championship Game.
Chance of coming back: If the Patriots are confident he can continue to play the way he did down the stretch, they should try to re-sign him. And what better place for a man who owns 30 Dunkin’ Donuts to live than New England?
Defensive tackle depth: Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Vincent Valentine
Contingency plan: With Brown and Guy both having strong seasons in 2017 and Butler showing promise as a situational pass rusher, defensive tackle isn’t a real position of need for the Patriots, especially if Valentine can come back healthy after spending the season on injured reserve. Jean Francois provides valuable depth, though. If he doesn’t re-sign, the Pats should look to bolster the position through the draft or by bringing in another affordable veteran.