By the time Wednesday rolls around, the Patriots defensive line will look significantly different than it has for the past few years. When the league year officially starts, New England will have traded for defensive end Michael Bennett, and let free agent edge player Trey Flowers leave for Detroit.
Losing Flowers is not an ideal situation. He was one of the Patriots most talented and impactful players over the previous two and a half seasons. He provided Bill Belichick’s defense with versatility and skill; his unique ability to play up against the run and rush the passer made him one of the better edge defenders in the league. New England lost a solid youth piece and will need to adjust next season.
However, the world has not ended with the departure of Flowers. There is no doubt that he had a major impact on the Patriots defense, but losing him will not cripple New England. Flowers had a unique skill set, but it seems like a stretch to say that he is a player worth top-of-the-market defensive end money.
For example, Dee Ford and Frank Clark were both given the franchise tags by Kansas City and Seattle respectively. Their stats were extremely similar to Flowers in many categories, except the fact that they both hit double-digit sacks. Flowers has not had more than seven sacks in a single season. Now sack numbers are certainly not everything, but if you are going to be paying a defensive end top dollar, you would like to see them putting up high sack numbers. It’s unclear yet whether Flowers can be that player.
In lieu of resigning Flowers, the Patriots are trading for former Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Philadelphia defensive end Michael Bennett. At 33, Bennett does not exactly bring youth to the Patriots defensive line. However, what he does bring is 32.5 sacks over the previous four seasons. He is a pass rush specialist who excels at getting to the quarterback. Bennett could help provide New England with it’s most explosive pass rush since 2015.
This is not a guarantee by any means. New England brought in Adrian Clayborn last season who was coming off of a year with 9.5 sacks. Clayborn proceeded to start just one game and total only 2.5 sacks on the year. It was not exactly what the Patriots were looking for. However, if Bennett can be a better, more consistent pass rusher, and be versatile in his assignments, the Patriots will have found themselves a cheap and effective short-term replacement. Bennett has a cap hit of just $7.5 million in 2019 and $8 million in 2020. If he can reach close to double-digit sacks, it will have been a worthwhile investment for New England.
These two moves mean that the Patriots will undoubtedly be shopping for defensive linemen in the 2019 NFL Draft. While there are certainly other positions of need, a draft with this much defensive depth will encourage the Patriots to use a number of their picks on high-end d-line talent. Bill Belichick is probably salivating at the thought of it.