With the departures of Scott Chandler and Brandon LaFell, much of the Patriots free agency attention became focused on the offensive side of the ball. Since then, head coach and GM Bill Belichick has signed wide receiver Chris Hogan to bring new talent to the offensive unit.
Speculation had been that the Patriots might be looking to offer a sizable contract to an offensive player this offseason. But in recent days, it seems that Bill might have his eyes set on bringing in a defense veteran instead.
The Patriots showed a strong defense overall during their 2015 campaign. The offense was lights out when healthy, but it really was Matt Patricia’s defensive group that won many of the tight games last year.
There is now evidence that Belichick is looking to add veteran depth to his defense. Two former St. Louis Rams have been linked to the Patriots in recent days: LB James Laurinaitis and DE Chris Long, son of Charlestown’s Hall of Famer Howie Long.
Laurinaitis is a 6-foot-2-inch 248 pound linebacker out of Ohio State that has had a very productive college and professional career. In his six year career with the Rams he totaled over 100 combined tackles every season. He was highly regarded and drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft. Effort, aggression, and the ability to read and react has never been a problem for Laurinaitis.
Patriots blog: Patriots among teams included on LB James Laurinaitis' visits list https://t.co/W5TFQ5yOJk
— ESPNBoston (@ESPNBoston) March 12, 2016
However many scouts agreed that Laurinaitis might not have the tools to take his game to an elite level unless he is in the right system. Last year he made $3.675 million playing for the Rams.
Laurinaitis might be an ideal candidate for the Patriots to bring depth to their linebacking core. The departure of Jerod Mayo is definitely felt and a veteran like Laurinaitis could be a perfect fit for Matt Patricia. He definitely has legs left in him as he is currently garnering interest from multiple teams at the age of 29. Playing on an almost always mediocre St. Louis team his entire career might help to entice Laurinaitis to accept a Patriots friendly contract offer.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 14, 2016
The 6-foot-4-inch 275 pound Long entered the NFL from the University of Virginia in 2008. Long was regarded as one of the most dominant forces in college football the prior year. The St. Louis Rams took him second overall in the draft. In 2011 and 2012, he managed to record double digit sacks for the Rams. His past two seasons were cut short due to injury. In the last two years, he only suited up for a total of 16 games; achieving 14 tackles and four sacks combined. In 2015, Long earned $7 million with a roster bonus totaling an additional $3 million.
Long is player that once achieved 13 sacks in a season but hasn’t produced any significant production in either of his last two campaigns. It is interesting to see the Patriots bringing him in for a workout as they are already deep at defensive end (Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers). It’s also important to note that Akiem Hicks signed with the Chicago Bears Sunday so he will not be a Patriot in 2016. The Patriots also added DE Frank Kearse this past week.
While both players have talent to offer, it would seem most likely that the Patriots would sign Laurinaitis and not Long. With Long’s inconsistent production and injury troubles the past few seasons it would seem wise to sign the slightly younger and dependable Laurinaitis. New England also has more depth at the defensive end position compared to linebacker. The salary for Laurinaitis in 2015 was significantly more cheap compared to that of Long. It’s doubtful that the Patriots will make an effort to sign both players when they have yet to lock up a running back.
If anyone in the world can shop for a bargain it is Bill Belichick. While it seems one of the former Rams may be heading to New England, free agency is never predictable with coach Belichick in office. Another week of free agency moves will help clear the picture for Patriots fans.
It all starts Monday with the Chris Long workout in Foxboro.