Ask a New England Patriots fan and they’ll probably tell you their team’s biggest need heading into the 2018 offseason is pass rush.
The Patriots’ pass rush was stagnant for stretches in 2017 thanks in large part due to injuries. They definitely need another body or two at defensive end.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick typically stays away from one-dimensional, pure pass rushers. With that in mind, here are five players who could help New England in 2018 and wouldn’t break the bank. Free agency begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.
Murphy, a Stanford product, had the best season of his career in 2016 then tore his ACL before the 2017 season began. That clearly will lower his value entering the 2018 offseason as a free agent.
The Patriots like former Cardinal players, and at 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, Murphy has impressive versatility for his size. He switched between outside linebacker and defensive end with the Washington Redskins. He could rush the passer and occasionally drop into coverage with New England.
Clayborn is coming off his best NFL season with the Atlanta Falcons. He had 9 1/2 sacks, including six in Week 10 alone. He’ll be 30 years old in July, however, so his market might not be crazy as a free agent.
Clayborn played under Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and Greg Schiano with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so he has multiple connections to Belichick. Ferentz coached with Belichick in the 1990s with the Cleveland Browns, and Belichick and Schiano are buds.
Martin, like Murphy, is a big, versatile edge defender. He’s 6-foot-6, 272 pounds and can play standing up and with his hand in the ground. He also was a core special teamer with the Arizona Cardinals.
He’s never been overly productive as a pro, but he did have 20 total pressures in 2017.
Smith is an Arkansas product, so he’s got the Bert Bielema connection going for him. Bielema attended the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine with the Patriots. Smith is still only 26 years old but has bounced around from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ active roster and practice squad to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was solid as a rotational player in 2017 with the Bengals.
Hali’s best days are behind him, but he could have another year or two left of pass-rush production if used exclusively in passing situations.
The 34-year-old barely played for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 but was productive on a per snap basis in 2016. New England occasionally will take chances on players who appear to be washed up.