The Patriots have 22 players set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 17. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at New England’s free agents.
Up next: defensive end Deatrich Wise
2020 stats: 16 games, seven starts, 49 tackles, two tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 21 pressures, fumble recovery, touchdown
Likelihood of return: Moderate
Analysis: It’s really tough to gauge Wise’s free-agent market as the four-year veteran comes off of his most complete and perhaps best NFL season.
Wise primarily was used as a pass-rush specialist early in his career and only played sparingly in 2019 as a third-year pro. The 2017 fourth-round pick had the second-most playing time of his NFL career in 2020, however, and set a new high in run-defense snaps after bulking up in the offseason.
Wise held up pretty well, but the Patriots also were essentially forced into playing him more frequently after losing front-seven defenders like Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Danny Shelton to free agency or opt-out. Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Shilique Calhoun missed time with injuries, and Beau Allen, a projected starter, never suited up after getting hurt before training camp. So, it’s no surprise that Wise played more than expected.
He was a solid find in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, but Wise also has never been an ideal fit in New England’s defense. The Patriots typically prefer more athletic edge defenders who can drop back in coverage. Wise also isn’t the stoutest edge-setter despite his 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame. The 26-year-old Arkansas product would probably be better-suited signing with a team that deploys a more traditional four-man front over the Patriots, who like versatile edge players who can add an element of unpredictability.
Wise also could see his snaps dip in 2021 with Hightower returning from an opt-out and young players like Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings gaining experience. New England also should be looking to upgrade its defensive line in free agency or the draft. Guy and Butler are free agents and Allen is returning, but the Patriots’ run defense needs to be significantly more reliable in 2021.
With that being said, if Wise is cheap, and that’s certainly possible with a lower salary cap this offseason, there’s no reason for New England not to bring him back as a depth pass-rushing option. Whether or not Wise returns completely depends on his market as an experienced NFL defensive end who has proven the ability to get after the quarterback.