The New England Patriots should be looking for help at defensive end after Chandler Jones (11.5 sacks) and Rob Ninkovich (8 sacks) led the league in defensive snaps in 2013 (per ProFootballFocus, subscription required). They can’t do it by themselves, all the time.
Here’s a look at some free agent veterans that the Patriots may target:
Jared Allen (MIN)
Allen is easily the best pass rusher left in free agency. If the Patriots wanted a serious boost to their defensive end rotation, Allen would do just that. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has tallied at least 11 sacks in 8 of his 10 NFL seasons. He’s the real deal and has at least a couple good seasons left in him. Allen is likely the most expensive option left in the defensive end market, which could steer the Patriots away, but after signing big names like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, nothing would surprise me at this point.
Shaun Phillips (DEN)
Despite recording 10 sacks in 2013 and 9.5 sacks in 2012, Phillips hasn’t garnered much attention in free agency. He’ll be 33 this May and though he’s been productive throughout his career, he’s never been a game-changer. Teams may be turned off by his age, but we’re talking about a guy that can still get after the quarterback. He could certainly help New England. At his age, it make sense for him to sign on with a contender, much like he did last off-season when he signed a one-year deal with the Broncos for just $1 million (per Spotrac.com). Why not the Patriots in 2014?
Robert Ayers (DEN)
Another ex-Broncos defensive end, former 2009 first-round draft choice Ayers, wouldn’t be a bad signing. He hasn’t lived up to his first-round status, but the 6-foot-3 275-pound defensive end is coming off his best season after recording 5.5 sacks in a limited role. He also excelled at defending the run when asked to do so. He has a lot of physical ability and is only 28 years old. The team should be familiar with him; they played the Broncos three times in the last two seasons and Josh McDaniels drafted him. He wouldn’t be a splash signing but he’d be cheap and has potential. Perhaps Bill Belichick and company could find an effective role for him.
Will Smith (NO)
Smith didn’t play in 2013 due to an ACL tear suffered in the preseason. He’ll be 33 this July, but if his body is right, he’s probably worth taking a flyer on. He was an effective player during his nine years with the Saints, recording six or more sacks in his last two seasons. In a specialized role–assuming good health–Smith could help.