As the March 17 start of NFL free agency draws closer, NESN.com is identifying potential New England Patriots targets at key positions of need. Up next: linebackers.
PATRIOTS LINEBACKERS SIGNED FOR 2021
LEVEL OF NEED: High
(Note: We covered ex-Patriot Kyle Van Noy in our rundown of available edge defenders.)
Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
2020 stats: 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks, nine quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defended (10 games)
A rash of injuries limited the Boston College product to 10 appearances and a career-low 335 snaps this past season. But when healthy, he?s the type of difference-maker New England?s linebacking corps lacked in 2020. The Patriots reportedly hosted Milano for a pre-draft visit back in 2017, so he?s been on their radar for a while. He won’t be cheap, though. Lavonte David’s contract extension made Milano arguably the top free-agent linebacker available. (UPDATE: Milano re-signed with Buffalo before free agency.)
Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans
2020 stats: 76 tackles, five TFLs, one sack, two QB hits, two forced fumbles one interception, eight passes defended (10 games)
Like the 6-foot, 223-pound Milano, Brown (6-0, 226) is smaller than the Patriots typically like their linebackers, but he was highly productive for Mike Vrabel’s Titans, averaging more than 90 tackles per year over the last three seasons. He’s also adept in coverage with three interceptions and 26 passes defended in his four-year career. Brown suffered a season-ending elbow injury in November but reportedly is back to full health.
K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks
2020 stats: 86 tackles, 11 TFLs, two sacks, three QB hits, two fumble recoveries, one interception, 10 passes defended (16 games)
The longtime Seattle standout graded out as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best linebacker in 2020. Wright played mostly on the edge this past season but primarily was an off-the-ball ‘backer over the previous nine years. The Patriots like players with that kind of versatility.
Denzel Perryman, Los Angeles Chargers
2020 stats: 48 tackles, three TFLs, one sacks, two QB hits, one forced fumble, one pass defended (13 games)
Perryman wouldn’t be a three-down player, and he’s never played a full 16-game season (27 missed games in six years). But he’s a solid run defender who’d fill a need.
Avery Williamson, Pittsburgh Steelers
2020 stats: 111 tackles, three TFLs, one sacks, two QB hits, one interception, three passes defended (15 games)
Williamson has been a tackling machine throughout his career, topping 100 in four of his six pro seasons (excluding the 2019 campaign, which he missed with a torn ACL). He was PFF’s sixth-highest graded run defender in 2020 but didn’t fare nearly as well in coverage, ranking a miserable 74th out of 75 qualifying linebackers.
B.J. Goodson, Cleveland Browns
2020 stats: 91 tackles, two TFLs, 1/2 sack, three QB hits, one fumble recovery, two interceptions, six passes defended (14 games)
Playing on his third team in three years, the 27-year-old Goodson enjoyed a career year for Cleveland, setting a personal best in tackles and grading out as PFF’s 21st-best linebacker.
Reggie Ragland, Detroit Lions
2020 stats: 52 tackles, four TFLs, one sack, three QB hits, one forced fumble, one pass defended (16 games)
Ragland has multiple Patriots connections, having played under Matt Patricia in Detroit and Nick Saban at Alabama. The 27-year-old hasn’t played to his draft slot as a 2016 third-round pick and would be an affordable option.