The Adrian Clayborn experiment never seemed to work out quite as planned. On Friday the team parted ways with the edge defender after a one-year marriage, freeing up about $4 million in salary cap space.
Thank you @Patriots for my time with the organization. I gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.— Adrian Clayborn (@AJaClay) March 15, 2019
Clayborn was signed as a sub-rusher, someone who was going to have an opportunity to pin his ears back and get after quarterbacks in obvious passing situations. And that's what he did. Almost 90 percent of his 410 snaps (88.5) last season came as a pass-rusher.
There were bright spots. Against Green Bay in Week 9, Clayborn recorded a sack and three hurries, helping to frustrate Aaron Rodgers into bad decisions and wasted downs. He worked games efficiently with his teammates along the defensive line late in the season, particularly in the Divisional Round matchup against the Chargers, where he was in on a sack, recorded two hits and had two more pressures.
By season's end, Clayborn was viewed as one of the most productive pass-rushers in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Coming off the right side almost exclusively (he just had two rushes off the left) he had 39 total pressures on 255 pass-rush snaps. That gave him a PFF pass-rush productivity mark of 11.7, which was fifth in the NFL.
Yet, Clayborn's adjustment to the scheme in New England was far from seamless. He occasionally took himself out of plays by running by quarterbacks and opening up scramble lanes. Still, the coaching staff appreciated his all-business approach and his diligence in trying to execute his role as they wanted.
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"Of all the guys we've had come in over the years from other places, that transition is always difficult. It's never easy," former defensive line coach Brendan Daly said mid-season. "Particularly for veteran guys that have been at other places. For whatever reason it may be. It's never easy.
"I would say he's done as good a job as anybody we've had in making that transition. He is a high-character guy. He's willing to do whatever it is he's asked to do. He jumps in. He asks great questions. He's been a lot of fun to have."
Clayborn was set to make $3.5 million in base salary after signing a two-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. His cap charge was scheduled to be almost $6 million. His release will lop $2 million in dead cap to the team's overall cap picture, but the Patriots will save $3.94 million in cap space that can be spent elsewhere.
For someone who was a healthy scratch in the last two weeks of the regular season as the Patriots turned things around to hit the postseason with some momentum, a $6 million cap hit seemed pricey.
Clayborn ceded work to defensive ends Derek Rivers (one sack, two hurries in 16 snaps in Week 17) and Ufomba Kamalu (two hurries in 21 snaps in Weeks 16 and 17) late in the regular season but came back in the playoffs to play 92 snaps, including 26 in the Super Bowl.
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With Clayborn no longer in the mix, that would seem to open up an opportunity for Rivers in a sub-rusher role; 81 percent of his snaps in 2018 came as a pass-rusher. Rivers and Kamalu give the Patriots some value in the kicking game as well, something Clayborn didn't provide.
With Trey Flowers also out of the rotation, the edge defenders on the Patriots roster as currently constituted include Michael Bennett, John Simon, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Rivers and Kamalu.
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