The New England Patriots had question marks on their defensive line Friday morning and they’ll have the same issues Friday night as they enter the weekend.

Basically, Adrian Clayborn’s release doesn’t change much.

The Patriots released Clayborn, freeing up nearly $3.5 million in salary cap space, Friday afternoon. Clayborn, who was a healthy scratch for the final two games last season despite carrying the 10th-highest cap hit on the team, would have been a roster-bubble player entering next season if he wasn’t released.

With Trey Flowers signed away by the Detroit Lions and Clayborn cut, the Patriots are left with Michael Bennett, John Simon, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu and Trent Harris on their edge defender depth chart. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy also can, and will, play on the edge.

That’s not a terrible group. The Patriots could go into the 2019 season with that corps, though it’s not ideal. Players like Wise, Rivers, Davis, Kamalu and Harris still have upside, but Wise, Rivers and Davis didn’t the take leap many expected them to in 2018. All three players were healthy scratches at least once last season.

Bennett will be a starter in 2019, but Simon probably is best used as a situational player who could start. The Patriots still could sign a veteran free agent. They’ve shown interest in Brandon Copeland, and high-profile players like Justin Houston, Ezekiel Ansah, Nick Perry, Shane Ray and Clay Matthews are still available. They have limited salary cap room, however, even after releasing Clayborn.

The most likely path to increased defensive end depth is through the draft. Front-seven players like Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, Georgia’s D’Andre Walker, Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, Michigan’s Chase Winowich, Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones, TCU’s L.J. Collier, Iowa’s Anthony Nelson, Boston College’s Zach Allen, Alabama’s Christian Miller and Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximines could be around when the Patriots are picking in the bottom of the first round and into the second.

We personally like Ferguson, Winowich and Nelson from that group.

The Patriots’ edge corps isn’t far from being complete, but they do need to add one or two more pieces for not only the 2019 season but looking toward the future, as well.

Thumbnail photo via Quinn Harris/USA TODAY Sports Images