Should Patriots Target This Newly Released Defensive Tackle?

Kawann Short is a two-time Pro Bowler

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It hasn’t received as much attention as their shortcomings at quarterback, receiver, tight end and linebacker, but the New England Patriots badly need defensive tackle help this offseason.

One potential target just hit the open market.

The Carolina Panthers plan to release veteran D-tackle Kawann Short in a cap-clearing move, according to multiple reports Tuesday. ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report the impending transaction.

Short’s release was expected, as he was set to carry a bloated $20.8 million salary cap hit in 2021 and has appeared in just five games over the last two seasons.

But before shoulder injuries derailed his 2019 and 2020 campaigns, Short was one of the NFL’s top D-tackles, earning Pro Bowl selections in 2015 and 2018 and grading out as Pro Football Focus’s second-best interior defender in 2017, trailing only Aaron Donald. He turned 32 earlier this month and should fetch interest from teams with D-line deficiencies.

With the NFL salary cap expected to drop this offseason as a result of the pandemic, other teams likely will need to make similar financial decisions to cut high-priced veterans in the coming weeks. These moves should benefit teams like the Patriots, who, with the league’s fourth-most cap space, and have the resources to pounce on newly available players.

Unlike free agents, who must wait until the the new league year begins March 17, released players like Short and J.J. Watt can sign with a new team at any time.

After getting exactly zero snaps out of 2020 signee Beau Allen, the Patriots might not be eager to bring in someone with Short’s injury history. But adding impact players to their D-line should be high on their offseason priority list.

With Allen missing the entire 2020 season, New England relied heavily on players signed off practice squads (Nick Thurman, Carl Davis, Akeem Spence) to fill out their depth chart behind Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Byron Cowart.

Guy and Butler both battled injuries, and both are set to hit free agency in March. (Guy said he would “love” to re-sign.) Cowart, a 2019 fifth-round pick, was PFF’s 151st-highest-graded player at his position.

The Patriots ranked 26th in rushing defense and 20th in yards allowed per carry.

Allen, Cowart, Spence, Thurman, Michael Barnett and practice squadder Bill Murray are the only Patriots defensive tackles currently under contract for the 2021 season.

Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images

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