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.
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.