Adrian Clayborn

Report: Former Patriots DE Adrian Clayborn heading back to Atlanta Falcons

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Report: Former Patriots DE Adrian Clayborn heading back to Atlanta Falcons

After helping power the Patriots' pass rush to a Super Bowl win in 2018, former Pats defensive end Adrian Clayborn is apparently headed back to the Atlanta Falcons.

According to ESPN's Mike Reiss, Clayborn has agreed to terms with the Falcons, whom he played for from 2015-2017.

Clayborn, 30, was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing for the Bucs for four seasons before heading to Atlanta.

Now Clayborn is headed back.

Clayborn joins a mass exodus of Patriots coaches and players following the 2018 season.

Clayborn was released by the Patriots upon request in March.

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Next man up: Clayborn release could mean an opportunity for Rivers

Next man up: Clayborn release could mean an opportunity for Rivers

There's still plenty of time for the Patriots to make a move in free agency. And they could make an early-round draft choice to address their pass-rush for 2019.

But Adrian Clayborn -- last season's primary sub-rusher in New England -- has been released, and there's a role up for grabs. At this stage, the front-runner for the gig could be third-year end Derek Rivers. 

Rivers played in just seven games last season, seeing 97 total snaps. Though it was a small sample size, it's relatively clear how the Patriots viewed him, as over 81 percent of Rivers' plays came as a pass-rusher. 

A healthy scratch for the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII, Rivers recorded his first sack as a pro in Week 17 as he helped cut into Clayborn's workload when Clayborn was a healthy scratch at the end of the regular season. 

Rivers was the Patriots' first selection, a third-rounder, in the 2017 NFL Draft. He showed some promise in his first training camp, making a significant jump in competition from Youngstown State to the NFL, but he tore his ACL during joint practices with the Texans at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. 


After months of rehab and working to develop his upper-body strength, Rivers got his feet back under him in training camp last year, working extensively with Trey Flowers and fellow 2017 draft pick Deatrich Wise on pass-rush moves long after practices finished up. 

“He’s worked hard every day,” Bill Belichick said of Rivers late last season. “Last year we had a ton of injuries at that position. This year, we’ve been totally healthy there so the opportunities — we have more people for the same number of opportunities."

Belichick added: "When he’s had an opportunity, he’s done well with it, both in practice and in games. I think he’s got a really good future. I’m glad we have him. He could be a good player. I think he is a good player. It’s just kind of a little bit of a situational thing right now."

With Clayborn's release, the situation there has changed. Which could mean Rivers is due for a more prominent role.

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One and done: Adrian Clayborn release frees up $4 million in cap space

One and done: Adrian Clayborn release frees up $4 million in cap space

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.

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.

"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.

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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