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: edge defenders.
Patriots edge defenders signed for 2021: Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Rashod Berry, Tashawn Bower
Patriots free-agent edge defenders: Shilique Calhoun, John Simon, Deatrich Wise
Kyle Van Noy
2020 stats: 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks, four QB hits, 22 hurries, six passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries
Why he fits: Because we know he fits. He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, and he’s listed here as an edge defender because that’s the role he played with New England in 2019. The Dolphins are still looking for a trade partner, per source. If they can’t find one, Van Noy would be released and become a free agent.
2020 stats: 44 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, nine QB hits, 42 hurries, three forced fumbles, fumble recovery, pass defended, safety
Why he fits: Would the Patriots go after Okwara after a career year? That depends on the recommendation from his former head coach. Okwara played under Matt Patricia for three seasons on the Detroit Lions. Patricia is now back with the Patriots as a special assistant.
2020 stats: 34 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, 11 QB hits, 20 hurries, three interceptions, five passes defended
Why he fits: He’s the type of linebacker the Patriots value who can do a little bit of everything. He has good athleticism for his 6-foot-3, 242-pound frame and can rush the passer, drop back into coverage and set the edge against the run.
There’s also some upside with Bowser. He was mostly a part-time player with the Baltimore Ravens.
2020 stats: 36 tackles, five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hits, 21 hurries, pass defended
Why he fits: It might sound boring, but the Patriots need edge defenders who can stop the run. They already have Chase Winovich and Josh Uche who can develop into dangerous pass rushers. That’s why they might skip going after players whose primary value is getting after the passer like Carl Lawson, Trey Hendrickson and Haason Reddick. Basham is solid against the run, and he can provide some pass-rush help, as well.
2020 stats: 32 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, four QB hits, 23 hurries, forced fumble, pass defended
Why he fits: Jenkins, like Basham, is another stout edge defender from the New York Jets who can help as a pass rusher or run defender.
2020 stats: 19 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, six QB hits, nine hurries
Why he fits: The Patriots liked Murphy back in 2018, so it’s fair to assume they’ll check in on him again this offseason. Murphy took on a part-time role in 2020 with the Buffalo Bills but could still be a helpful rotational player in New England.
2019 stats (tore ACL two games into 2020 season): 21 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, four QB hits, eight hurries
Why he fits: The Patriots like taking chances on failed first-round draft picks. Thomas has the positional versatility to play on the edge or inside at defensive tackle. The 2017 first-round pick might simply need a change of scenery to live up to his potential.
2020 stats: 32 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks, 11 QB hits, 25 hurries, four passes defended
Why he fits: He’s on the older side at 32 years old (he was drafted the same year as Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski), but he’s still a good player who can provide help as a situational pass rusher and edge setter.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Dunlap tries to latch on with a team closer to winning a Super Bowl, but he also might not have that many choices as an older veteran player in an offseason with a lowered salary cap.
Pressure stats via PFF.