Patriots

Patriots

When the Patriots opted not to pick up the fifth-year options for 2015 first-round picks Malcom Brown or Danny Shelton last year, they seemed to be making the statement that they'll be back in the market for big-bodied interior defenders. And soon. 

They could dip back into the draft to beef up their defensive tackle spot, adding someone like Clemson's 355-pounder Dexter Lawrence to a depth chart that already includes Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. Bill Belichick could also look to free agency to help fill that void. 

If he does, there's a player available with whom Belichick is familiar who does exactly what the Patriots like on the interior: former Jets defensive tackle Mike Pennel, whose option for 2019 and 2020 wasn't picked up.

While Pennel's pass-rush productivity improved last season, according to Pro Football Focus, that's not really his game. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder is 27 years old and ranked as one of the league's top run-stuffing tackles in 2018, per PFF.

For a defense in New England that still values big, strong players who can stop the run and help put opposing offenses in third-and-long situations on a consistent basis, Pennel seems just like their type. 

I asked Belichick about Pennel's body type last season, wondering if the coach viewed players built like Pennel as sort of a dying breed in a league that year after year seems to be geared more toward the passing game. 

His answer? No. That type of size is always rare and always will be. And it'll always have value if the player can do some of the same things smaller players can.

"Well, first of all, Phil, let’s start with how many 330 guys are there out there? Now if you’re looking for 190-pound receivers, I mean, there’s eight bazillion of them," Belichick said. "How many 330-pound guys are there? There’s just not that many of them. So, they’re always hard to find. Those guys are always hard to find. I don’t care if they’re tackles, offensive tackles, defensive tackles. For every guy that’s 330, there’s 20 that are 290. 

"So, if you can find the 330 guys, or whatever the number is, that are as athletic and have the skill of guys that weigh 40 pounds less that play the same position, generally speaking, those guys are probably going to outperform the guys that are lesser. Now, if there’s some balance then that’s a different story. And again, there’s only so many 330-pound guys out there, or 370-pound guys, however big Trent Brown is or Marcus Cannon. There’s not an unlimited supply of those guys. 

"If they have that kind of size and are athletic and have the skills then chances are they’re going to be playing for somebody. I don’t know – if they don’t have the skills, then they pump gas. There’s something else. But guys that are big and athletic, there’s a sport and a position for most of those guys. It’s the little ones, like me, that were slow and make up for it with lack of quickness that have trouble."

Given what's looking like a real need for the Patriots on the interior of their line, given Belichick's affinity for effective behemoths, and given Pennel's recent history an effective behemoth, seems like a marriage worth pursuing when free agency rolls around. 

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