Patriots free-agent outlook: Defensive linemen

Patriots free-agent outlook: Defensive linemen

In the first of a five-part series, Phil Perry and DJ Bean take a look at potential free agents New England might have interest in. Today: Defensive linemen.


Bill Belichick could be in need of several powerful bodies for his defensive front this offseason. If Alan Branch capitalizes on his career year by signing for big money elsewhere, and if Jabaal Sheard believes a change of scenery is best for him, that will mean two of their key rotational linemen will need to be replaced. Chris Long has already indicated that he won't be back.

PATRIOTS FREE AGENCY: Curran on Pats' plans, plus position-by-position breakdown

The Patriots have two tackles in house and ready to go in Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, but they typically like a three-man rotation there. At end, Trey Flowers is a young ascending player, but Rob Ninkovich is 32, and Geneo Grissom hasn't proven he can handle regular usage on the line. They'll probably need a another one or two end-of-the-line guys in order to solidify their rotation there. 


Brandon Williams, 28, Ravens: The 6-foot-1, 335-pounder is expected to be one of the most impactful (and expensive) players available in free agency this offseason. He doesn't provide much in the way of pass-rush, but he's hard to move, which is generally what the Patriots like from their interior linemen.

Dontari Poe, 26, Chiefs: The No. 11 overall pick in 2012 is about as athletic as you'll find when it comes to tackles his size (6-3, 346 pounds). Coming off of a down season in Kansas City (played in every game but saw a career low in terms of snap percentage), he should still be in the prime of his career and provide suitors with a little more pass-rush ability than Williams.

Johnathan Hankins, 24, Giants: Another space-eating tackle (6-2, 320) who had a big-time season two years ago, Hankins is still young enough to recapture that form. He should come cheaper than both Williams and Poe. 

Nick Fairley, 29, Saints: A potential fit in New England as a pass-rushing tackle in the mold of Dominique Easley, the 6-4, 291-pounder rebuilt his value on a one-year deal in New Orleans by recording 6.5 sacks and playing in nearly 70 percent of the team's snaps. The former No. 13 overall pick in 2011 met with the Patriots last year during free-agency, and perhaps they'll take another look. 

Calais Campbell, 30, Cardinals: Perhaps the best player available in free agency, the 6-8, 300-pound put-him-anywhere-and-watch-him-work lineman is going to have all kinds of money thrown his way on the open market. Belichick has said many times that players with that kind of length and strength "don't grow on trees," but the Patriots typically stay out of the running when it comes to bidding on market-setting players who aren't their own.

Jared Odrick, 29, Jaguars: We touched on Odrick's potential fit with the Patriots on Friday. Makes sense.

Mario Williams, 32, Dolphins: Coming off of an unimpressive one-year run in Miami, Williams has long had the respect of Belichick and Nick Caserio, who call him "Big M." Might New England make sense as the final stop in Williams' career? The Patriots might be willing to take a chance on the former No. 1 overall pick to see if working in a rotation under Belichick and Matt Patricia would help him recapture his form from 2014 when he recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks.

Search continues: Scarnecchia pops up at Notre Dame for look at McGlinchey

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Search continues: Scarnecchia pops up at Notre Dame for look at McGlinchey

The effort to replenish the tackle depth the Patriots boasted last year will not stop with the re-signing of LaAdrian Waddle. That much was clear when Dante Scarnecchia was spotted at Notre Dame's pro day on Thursday.

The Fighting Irish offense featured two of the top offensive linemen in the country last season in guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey.

Nelson is expected to be a top-10 selection and some believe him to be the best player in this year's class regardless of position. The Patriots probably won't have a shot at him. And they're OK at guard. Scarnecchia (and national scout DuJuan Daniels) were in all likelihood there to scout McGlinchey more thoroughly. 


The 6-foot-8, 312-pounder is considered by many to be the top tackle in this year's draft. McGlinchey spent two seasons on the right side, backing up current Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley, and he spent the last two seaons on the left. He's thought to be a very good athlete for his size, but he may have some issues with "bull rushers and power at the point of attack," according's Lance Zierlein. 

But even with the blemishes that may show up on his tape, McGlinchey could go in the top half of the first round if a team gets desperate. Or he could slide. It seems a slide to the Patriots would be unlikely but not impossible. That's why the Patriots did their due diligence on the player who may be the only NFL-ready tackle in the draft.

Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage made that very point on Quick Slants the Podcast soon after the NFL Scouting Combine finished up. 

"It's definitely become a challenge," Savage said of finding pro-ready tackles. "We've always focused and talked about how the spread offenses in college have affected the quarterbacks, but in reality, it's impacted all of the positions, quite frankly. 

"You look at the offensive line nowadays and most schools are building what I call a five-man unit where there's no real distinction between the left tackle versus the right tackle versus the right guard versus the left guard. They're all kind of the same because they play as a unit. There's not as much of a premium placed on that left tackle as a standalone pass-protector...

"This year, amazingly enough, I really only had one tackle [with a first-round grade following the combine, and that's [Notre Dame's] Mike McGlinchey. There's a couple of interior linemen like Will Hernandez from UTEP and Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame that are likely to go in the first round. But as far as just a tackle. Wow. It's staggering to think that there could only be really one tackle to go in the first round this year."

The Patriots have a variety of routes they could take in filling the left tackle void filled by Nate Solder. They could try to figure out a way to get McGlinchey in house. They could go with Waddle. They could flip Marcus Cannon to the left side and use Waddle on the right. Maybe a second-year player -- Antonio Garcia? Cole Croston? -- will surprise and force the team's hand.

Whatever they choose, the search for tackles isn't over. And given how difficult it seems to be for teams around the league to find serviceable ones, it could last a while.



Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.