PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Patriots couldn't get a stop. The Bills rolled unimpeded all over Orchard Park during their Wild Card matchup with New England back in January, emphatically ending their division rival's season.
The common refrain from NFL folks who watched the proceedings that day was this: The Patriots looked slow defensively.
Through the first two weeks of the NFL's new league year, league cognoscenti continue to wonder if the Patriots have done enough to infuse their defense with some juice. One executive familiar with the Patriots program described their lack of speed on that side of the ball as something that had to be "concerning."
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With Josh Allen and the Bills looking poised to make another long run in 2022, with Tyreek Hill joining the Dolphins, the Patriots would certainly benefit from some athleticism to keep up. It's a necessity.
So what have they done to give themselves the kick they need?
There are two relatively minor moves that could end up serving as pieces to the puzzle for a faster Patriots defense. Trading edge defender Chase Winovich for off-the-ball linebacker Mack Wilson would qualify. Signing safety Jabrill Peppers to a one-year deal, a move made by the Patriots on Tuesday, a source told NBC Sports Boston, would as well.
Wilson, one NFL evaluator explained, has "rare lower-body explosiveness." Though he played only sparingly for Cleveland, he was viewed as an improving player for the Browns. The 6-foot-1, 233-pounder is significantly lighter than the bigger 'backers the Patriots have long employed -- Dont'a Hightower (260 pounds), Ja'Whaun Bentley (255), Kyle Van Noy (250), Jamie Collins (250) -- but has an ability to make "splash" plays in coverage thanks in part to good short-area quickness.
Considered a four-down player at One Patriot Place, should the Alabama product work his way into the lineup as a regular, that would provide an upgrade in the speed department.
Peppers, meanwhile, is a versatile safety who could give the team a little more gas at the second level. More of a box safety, he should provide Bill Belichick some flexibility to match up with a variety of weapons offensively, a league source explained. Though -- as is the case with Wilson -- the Patriots aren't committed to Peppers beyond 2022, he could impact their defense as a physical, explosive and competitive defensive back.
The Patriots have other off-the-radar types from last year's roster who could help the Patriots get faster this coming season.
Outside linebacker Josh Uche played only 241 snaps last year (only six in the playoff loss to Buffalo) but was an elite athlete leaving Michigan in 2020 and has a path to significantly more work with Kyle Van Noy no longer on the roster. Linebacker Cam McGrone fell to the fifth round last year as he dealt with a knee injury, but he's a twitchy player who could give New England some sideline-to-sideline range. Raekwon McMillan impressed as an athletic linebacker during training camp until tearing his ACL. If healthy, he should give the Patriots another linebacker option with some movement skills.
The Patriots will continue to look for cornerback help after acquiring low-cost veteran free agents Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell, and it'd come as little surprise if that was one area where speed was added through the draft.
In a meeting with local reporters Tuesday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft hinted at the fact that the team has players who aren't at the top of mind for fans who could provide the team with real contributions next season.
"I think we have a lot of talent," Kraft said. "Some wonderful young men from last year, and a couple in the weeds from before. It's a chance for them to grow and hopefully come together, and the team comes together."
In an offseason that might be best described as "disciplined" when it comes to the Patriots' approach to spending, they've made some minor moves to address one of last season's biggest concerns. But there remains work to be done.