As the March 15 start of the new NFL league year approach, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots roster.
Who’s returning? Who could be out the door? What are the biggest questions facing each group?
Next up: the defensive linemen.
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
2022 STATS (via Pro Football Focus)
Barmore (10 games): 23 tackles (two for loss), 2.5 sacks and seven QB hits.
Wise (17 games): 59 tackles (seven for loss), 7.5 sacks and 11 QB hits.
Guy (14 games): 46 tackles (three for loss) two sacks and five QB hits.
Davis (16 games): 11 tackles (one for loss), one sack and one QB hit.
Godchaux (17 games): 62 tackles (three for loss), 1.5 sacks and three QB hits.
Roberts (five games): two tackles (zero for loss), zero sacks and zero QB hits.
Mitchell (16 games): eight tackles (zero for loss), zero sacks and zero QB hits.
Ekuale (15 games): 14 tackles (two for loss), two sacks and three QB hits.
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Will Christian Barmore be a breakout star? The 2021 second-round pick faced big expectations this season after a great rookie campaign. But a nagging knee injury forced Barmore to miss extended time and prevented him from living up to the promise. He finished with a bang but failed to establish himself as an every-down force.
If Barmore takes another step in his development next season, New England’s defense could emerge as one of the more intimidating units in the NFL. Barmore is a tenacious pass-rusher and underrated run defender, and he possesses the kind of swagger and work ethic that makes it easy to envision greatness.
He just needs to stay healthy and be more consistent in the run game. If Barmore reaches his potential, he could be the Patriots’ version of Chris Jones: a game-wrecking lineman who strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offenses.
And the Patriots need him to make that leap. Guy will turn 33 next month and no longer can handle a major workload. It’s time for Barmore to take over.
2. Can Deatrich Wise replicate his career season? In 2022, Wise transformed from an average lineman with decent pass-rushing ability into a consistent force who earned every bit of his career-high usage. The sixth-year pro got off to a torrid start, racking up five sacks in his first six games. He registered just 2.5 more the rest of the way but still put together his best season yet.
But can he repeat it? Did the Patriots go overboard in giving him 73% of the defensive snaps?
New England’s defensive line was a huge disappointment in 2021 but was far better this season, partly due to Wise’s breakout campaign. The Patriots could be in trouble if he regresses next season, as Roberts, a sixth-round pick, probably isn’t ready for a big role after seeing just 40 defensive snaps as a rookie. And New England really isn’t in a position to spend money on its defensive line this offseason.
The Patriots need Wise to be as good next season as he was in 2022, if not better. That’s a big ask.
3. Should depth pieces be re-signed? The Patriots also benefit from having two solid depth linemen in Davis and Ekuale. Both players are set to hit free agency next month.
Ekuale missed the first two games of the season due to a banned-substance suspension but eventually submitted his busiest and most productive season as a pro. He provided a spark as a sub-rusher and basically was Adam Butler 2.0, which is a good thing.
As for Davis, he once again was rock-solid against the run while serving as Godchaux’s top backup at nose tackle. The veteran lineman is great in his role and is worth bringing back for another season.
But the Patriots can’t pay everyone and always could target young linemen in the draft. Ekuale and Davis are 29 and 30 years old, after all. They’re not the sexiest free agents but are important players worth monitoring this offseason.