Patriots Re-Sign ‘Thumper’ and Leading Tackler

Bill Belichick Patriots

Getty New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

The New England Patriots were supposed to be getting more athletic at linebacker this offseason. The group might be a bit more swift and agile, but the team recently re-signed one of its bigger inside backers commonly referred to as a “thumper.

The Patriots and inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley agreed to a new two-year deal worth up to $9 million, per’s Ian Rapoport, and he figures to play a major role with New England in 2022.

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Bentley and Patriots Get the Deal Done Despite Rumors to the Contrary

There was an idea floated that Bentley might be too expensive for a Patriots team (per Henry McKenna of USA Today) that has been increasingly conservative this offseason. However, the two sides were able to swing a deal and Bentley will remain with the only team he’s ever played for during his four-year NFL career.

Pat’s Pulpit’s Bernd Buchmasser commented on Bentley’s signing and how it fits within the new-look Patriots linebacker group.

“After the Patriots acquired Mack Wilson via trade there was some chatter about them potentially changing their approach at the linebacker position to become better in coverage and thus more adaptable to today’s pass-happy game,” Buchmasser explained. “While that might still be the overall plan, bringing back Bentley is still a good move.”

Bentley led the Patriots in tackles in 2021 with 109. It was the first year of his career he’d eclipsed the 100-tackle mark. He also appeared to become a more well-rounded linebacker last season.

“Bentley, after all, is a thumper,” Buchmasser continued. “While he did show some encouraging improvement as a pass defender in 2021, his strengths lie in his ability to attack downhill and take on offensive linemen as a run defender. At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds he has the size to do that — unlike Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson and Cameron McGrone, who are all noticeably smaller.”

There will be times and matchups where the Patriots will still want to have a big and physical inside linebacker on their roster. Bentley not only fits that description, he is also the most experienced and the linebacker who is most comfortable with New England’s system.

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This suggests the Patriots may be moving on from a player who has served as Bentley’s mentor to a degree.

Is This the End of the Road For Hightower in New England?

Dont’a Hightower is a three-time Super Bowl champion and a long-time anchor for the Patriots’ defense. However, he hasn’t yet signed a deal with New England or any other NFL team. There has been rumors that he could return, but it would appear the re-signing of Bentley hurts those chances.

The two men are similar in style and stature, only Bentley is seven years younger and quite honestly, he outplayed Hightower in 2021.

After sitting out the 2020 season on the COVID-19 opt-out list, Hightower’s production in 2021 was a far cry from his 2019 campaign. Hightower’s tackles didn’t just dip from 71 to 64 while missing the Pro Bowl, his approximate value rating tanked from 17 in 2019 to just 8 in 2021.

Hightower’s play and falloff in the athleticism department is a bit of a microcosm of the issues the Patriots’ defense had in 2021. When critics point to slower Patriots linebackers, it seems they are picturing Hightower in his 2021 form.

Because Bentley is already clearly a “thumper” it seems possible the Patriots may not want to bring back an older and compromised player for the same role.

As of now, the Patriots still haven’t locked down the sort of free-agent or trade acquisition that will light a fire under its fanbase.

Perhaps it will happen closer to the NFL Draft or the team will find a way to grab an intriguing prospect from the draft.

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