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The New England Patriots did not have a top ten defense last season. They were ranked 23rd in the league in sacks. This is shocking for a team being coached by a former Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator. Bill Belichick made his reputation with a fierce defense and now will need to rebuild it if he want to keep his team at the top of the league.
Much of the attention will be how the Patriots handle the Vince Wilfork situation. He has said that a franchise tag would be a slap in the face. Wilfork will be important for the patriots to keep their 3-4 defense, but it’s the middle of the defense that is the issue. Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton were the top tacklers on the team and will be coming back to anchor the linebackers.
However, Tully Banta-Cain and Pierre Woods are free agents and there will be questions about bringing back Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas. It is possible that all four could be gone from the team, leaving two starting vacancies on the defense. Needing a strong defense to compete, New England might have to look towards free agency and do what they do best: bring in fantastic veterans.
There are those on the wishful thinking list, meaning players you would like on your team but will most likely be resigned by their squads. Pro Bowl starter and free agent Elvis Dumervil will lead Josh McDaniels Broncos team. Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman shouldn’t be seen leaving San Diego and it’s perfect weather. The hero of the Cardinals-Packers playoff thriller Karlos Dansby will probably still be a team captain in Arizona. However, there are already three guys that can be seen in Patriots Blue and Silver next season.
He was just released by the New York Giants, who he has played with since 2005. In his first season at the Meadowlands, he was named a team captain and was the driving force behind the Giants defense. Between 2005 and 2008, Pierce has had over 95 tackles each season, including 138 in 2006, with 108 solo tackles. In 2007, he was named the United Way Man of the Year and was named an alternate in the Pro Bowl. A year later he was part of the Giants Super Bowl winning team. Problems arose when he was involved with the Plaxico Burress altercation. It was his car that Burress was driven to the hospital in. There are some that believe that tension between him and the Giants from the incident eventually led to his release, but the Giants have been adamant that it’s about the neck injury that ended his 2009 season. However, the Giants loss could be the Patriots gain and should the neck be healthy, the 32 year old Pierce will still have a lot to offer.
He is a Super Bowl winning linebacker and one of the biggest mouths in football. The eleven year veteran is known to cause headaches and get to quarterbacks. He has 92 career sacks and is only two seasons removed from a league leading 17.5 and leading the Dolphins to a 11-5 record and the AFC East crown. As great of a player he is, the negative might outweigh the positives. Before a game against the Patriots this season, he called out Tom Brady and the NFL’s rules regarding low hits on quarterbacks. He backed up his words by recording zero tackles! There are many times when his bark his worse then his bite. Still, Bill Belichick is known for taking players with bad reputations and turning them into team leaders. By having Joey focus on his game and not his words, he could be the most dangerous linebacker in football. Porter is the kind of player that can come in and mentor Guyton and Mayo, while turning out huge numbers. Expect him to draw some attention from Bill.
I know what you’re thinking. He’s a defensive end and the Panthers will franchise tag him. However, Carolina finally seems ready to not pursue him after they questioned his heart. Also, Peppers has stated that he would like to play in a 3-4 defense, making him a mutated linebacker. Think Tully Banta-Cain on crack. Should he actually fall onto the market, Peppers might become Patriots target number one. He has recorded ten or more sacks in six of eight seasons. Should he move into a linebacker-esque position, he might be pushing for a single season record. His speed and agility make him a offensive lineman’s nightmare, but he also has the ability to cover tight ends and running backs. Bill Belichick’s mouth should be watering with the thought of Peppers playing in Foxboro.
New England needs help on the defensive side of the ball. Next season, they will see strong passing teams with the Vikings, Packers, Bengals and Steelers and great rushing teams with the Jets, Ravens and Dolphins. They will need an upgrade at linebacker if they even want to return to the playoffs. These are just three guys who can come in and make a difference, but they are not the only options. Still imagine and linebacking corp with this lineup: Julius Peppers-Jerod Mayo-Gary Guyton-Joey Porter… did you start drooling yet?