How much faith do the New England Patriots have in their young linebackers? We might find out shortly as training camp gets underway on July 27. Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey is already suggesting the Patriots consider signing former Minnesota Viking and 4-time Pro Bowler Anthony Barr.
The ninth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft is still a free agent after spending each of his first eight seasons in the league with the Vikings. The 30-year-old made each year from 2015 to 2018, but he played in just two games in 2020 and missed another six contests in 2021.
At his best, Barr is the type of speedy and rangy linebacker capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge (evidenced by his 17.5 career sacks) and drop back in coverage. Barr had three picks in 2021.
Would New England consider bringing Barr in on a team-friendly one-year deal? It will likely depend on how comfortable they are with the players they have at linebacker.
How Does the Patriots’ Linebacker Group Look?
Heading into training camp, the Patriots have just one linebacker who is projected to play a ton of snaps who is over the age of 26. Harvey Langi is 29, but he’ll likely do most of his work on special teams if he makes New England’s 53-man roster. Matt Judon, who primarily rushes the passer off the edge, is 29 and turns 30 in August.
Aside from those two, New England has embraced a youth movement at linebacker. Between Raekwon McMillan, Ja’Whuan Bentley, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings, and Cameron McGrone, the former is the oldest in the group at 26.
Many, including NBC Sports’ Phil A. Perry, project that group will make up the Patriots’ linebacker group on the 53-man roster with the exception of Jennings. Barr could bump someone if he signed and proved himself to be worth a roster spot in the Patriots’ eyes.
If the Patriots’ youngsters hit the ground running in training camp, and remain healthy heading into and through the preseason, New England may elect to stand pat on this position. However, if there are injuries, you may see the team look to fill some gaps at linebacker.
Are the Patriots Expecting Dont’a Hightower to Return?
There are some indications the Patriots may be waiting to hear from Dont’a Hightower about his future in the sport. Hightower is currently a free agent and is believed to be considering retirement. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the Patriots would welcome Hightower back “with open arms” if he decides to play.
If that’s the case and Hightower does play at least one more season, it seems less likely the Patriots would sign another veteran linebacker like Barr. At this point, if Hightower is interested, he might be better served as an assistant coach with a concentration on the linebackers in New England.
He’s only 32 years old, but the two-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion may still be at the end of his football journey as a player. We’ll likely learn about Hightower’s decision over the next few weeks.
If the Patriots haven’t signed him by the start of training camp, it’s a good bet he won’t be there during the regular season.
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