The biggest departure in free agency this offseason for the New England Patriots may not be Tom Brady, should he decide to leave.
Instead, it could be outside linebacker and defensive anchor Kyle Van Noy. When he arrived in New England during the 2016 season, not many believed he would become a key piece to the defense, rather serving as a role player. But Van Noy quickly became the team’s most valuable lineman and pass rusher, helping guide the team to a trio of Super Bowl appearances and two championships.
His past two seasons marked career bests. Van Noy posted 92 tackles in 2018 while adding career highs in 2019 in sacks (6.5), QB hits (14), tackles for loss (7), and forced fumbles (3).
Van Noy’s acquisition was made to replace Jamie Collins, traded in 2016 before his return in 2019. Collins had one of his best seasons, with career highs in QB hits (10), sacks (7.0), and passes defended (7).
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But with both set to enter free agency in search of hefty contracts, the Patriots may not be able to afford to keep that duo around. So what external options are available in New England’s price range? Here are a few options.
Bill Belichick loves his former Buffalo Bills. He’s gone after the likes of Chris Hogan and Stephon Gilmore, turning both into stars upon arriving in New England.
That might be an attraction to someone like Lawson. At age 25, the defensive end earned $2.5 million last season and is seeking a larger contract for 2020. The Patriots could afford Lawson for a market price of $7.5 million, a 200-percent increase from last year. New England may choose to backload his contract as well to make him more affordable for the upcoming seasons.
Lawson had career highs in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (13), solo tackles (21), and QB hits (18). He could serve as a cost-effective option for at edge rusher for New England and he’s clearly someone who has shown the ability to penetrate the backfield.
Another AFC East option, the New York Jets outside linebacker is entering his age-26 season coming off a strong 2019 campaign. Over the past two years, he’s posted 28 QB hits and 15 sacks in 30 games.
He’s an underrated option with room to grow if added to the proper defensive system like New England. Jenkins compares well to Van Noy and Collins and made just $780,000 last season. The Patriots could extend him an offer somewhere around $5 million to bring in a young linebacker who continues to improve.
One player Belichick likes more than former Bills: former Cleveland Browns. Nassib, a subject in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” ahead of the 2018 season, was cut by Cleveland but caught on quickly in Tampa Bay.
Since joining the Buccaneers, Nassib has posted 12.5 sacks and 25 QB hits in two seasons for a Tampa defense that has struggled to maintain consistency. But with just four NFL seasons under his belt and a strong personality — one that is built to help younger players learn — the Patriots may take a chance.
Nassib made just a hair under $900,000 last year, but New England could add him for around $4.5 million. He would be a versatile option similar to Chase Winovich or Shilique Calhoun that could play both linebacker and edge rusher.