Patriots Free Agents: Has Ja’Whaun Bentley Earned Significant Payday?

Bentley will turn 26 in August


Feb 21, 2022

The New England Patriots have nearly 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 16. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Ja’Whaun Bentley is young, is coming off his best season and plays a position at which the Patriots have struggled to develop talent. He seemingly fits the bill as someone whom New England should make every attempt toward re-signing this offseason.

And yet, his situation is a complicated one.

Bentley was taken by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. A strong training camp led to high expectations for the then-rookie linebacker, but a torn biceps caused him to miss the majority of his freshman campaign. Bentley returned in 2019 but started in just two games, and was marginally better in 2020 when he started in 13 contests and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 49th-ranked linebacker.

The Purdue product enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2021, leading the Patriots in both tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three). Bentley played in 69% of New England’s defensive snaps, a slight step down from his 73% mark in 2020 but still good enough for third among all Patriots linebackers. The 25-year-old finished the season as the 23rd-ranked linebacker at PFF.

However, there are mixed opinions on how good Bentley truly was this season. For all the great plays he made — with his goal-line forced fumble against the Dallas Cowboys topping the list — there also were plenty of moments that saw Bentley making poor reads and/or getting exposed for his average speed. He posted huge tackling numbers, but you could argue many of those stats were hollow.

None of that is to say that Bentley isn’t a good player — he is. But how much is he worth on the open market?

Here are cases for and against the Patriots re-signing Bentley:

Bentley has earned a big payday, but it’s hard to envision him getting any wild contract offers. If the money is fair, the Patriots should do what they can to bring Bentley back for a least a couple more years.

Unless they have something planned in free agency, the draft or on the trade market, New England isn’t exactly bursting with middle linebacker talent. Dont’a Hightower, himself a free agent, did not look good at the end of the season and might retire. Jamie Collins also is a free agent, and Kyle Van Noy isn’t getting any younger. Thus far, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich and Anfernee Jennings haven’t shown the ability to play inside linebacker at a high level.

So, the Patriots kind of need Bentley on the roster. He’s limited in terms of what he can do in coverage and is a so-so pass rusher, but Bentley is solid against the run and generally is a smart, effective player. There’s plenty of value in that, assuming the salary is reasonable.

Bentley could use the above arguments to drive his price up with the Patriots, and other teams could be willing to overpay for a quality middle linebacker. At a certain point, New England must be willing to let Bentley walk.

Finding a serviceable, or superior, replacement shouldn’t be too difficult. There are decent linebackers available in free agency, and Bill Belichick always could find the next Van Noy on the late-summer trade market. And who knows? Maybe the Patriots use the 21st pick in the draft on a linebacker.

New England in recent seasons has given too much money to players who probably can be described as “pretty good.” Deatrich Wise certainly fits that description, and Bentley would, too. You could argue the Patriots instead should prioritize investing in developing high-end, explosive talent.

Jerod Mayo, for one, seems ready to do just that.

Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images
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