By Sterling Pingree
As a bonus to my Patriots’ free agency preview, here are 5 names to keep an eye on as we approach the start of the new league year on Wednesday at 4pm. These aren’t the name most likely to wind up in New England, just the 5 that I think would be the most fun and interesting.
T-5. Tamba Hali & Derrick Johnson
I couldn’t separate these two or put one in front of the other because in my mind they should always be together, which makes this off season so precarious as that both got cut by Kansas City. Hali and Johnson have been two of the guys that have worn the Patriots out over the years and Hali in particular has officially ascended to the mantle of the Jason Taylors, Cameron Wakes and Dwight Freeneys, that are good for a sack on Brady every time they play the Patriots.
Hali will be 35 in November, seems to have taken a sharp downturn since turning 30, his sack numbers are nowhere near double digits where they resided for most of his 20’s. As a situational pass rusher, he should be able to help deliver pressure off of the edge, but not every down.
Johnson has been a tackling machine throughout his career, with 2017 excluded as he only registered 48 tackles, the first time he hasn’t hit at least 65 tackles (barring injury) since 2009. The Patriots have traditionally scored with veteran linebackers (Johnson will turn 36 in November) dating back to the Bruschi, Vrabel, Seau and Colvin unit of the late 2000’s. The cautionary note here is remembering what they thought David Harris could bring to the table last season and what he was able to contribute.
- Kyle Williams
Another guy who seems to sack Tom Brady atleast twice each season. Williams has been the lone stalwart of Buffalo, having spent his entire 12 year career in Orchard Park. I’ll admit, this pick is more out of spite and sticking it to the Bills. Because if Kyle Williams left Buffalo for New England, the Bills wouldn’t know whether to shut down New Era stadium or induct him into the ring of honor next season.
- Jimmy Graham
This is the player on the list who could have the biggest impact for the Patriots in 2018. The rest of the list is more of a group of guys who it would be cool to see play in New England and you hope that they have something left in the tank. Maybe they could ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl. Graham would make the Patriots offense downright scary, even though we’ve seen this script before. Remember Pats’ fans reaction when New England traded for Martellus Bennett two years ago? Multiply that by 16 and that’s what the outpouring for a Jimmy Graham signing would look like.
Josh McDaniels is still in Foxborough and we know how he likes to game plan with two tight ends. Putting Graham with Gronkowski, who has been the only tight end of this era anyone has been able to even throw into the conversation of best tight end in the league during 87’s career, would be something the likes of which we have never seen. There has been a lot of talk about Graham going back to the Saints, but this one is a lot of fun to dream about.
- Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers was drafted #2 in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. 2002! David Carr was drafted by the Houston Texans as their first ever draft choice, one spot ahead of Julius Peppers. (Some other names in the first round of the 2002 draft: Joey Harrington, Roy Williams (Cowboys safety not Lions WR or Lions WR) Quentin Jammer and Jeremy Shockey.)
Peppers had 11 sacks last season and then he turned 38 in January. Who led the Patriots in sacks in 2017? The answer is Trey Flowers, with 6.5. Do you know what Julius Peppers has never done in his hall of fame bound NFL career? Have less than 7 sacks, that’s something that Peppers has never done. Peppers has 154.5 career sacks, just 5.5 behind Kevin Greene for 3rd all-time and would only trail Bruce Smith 200 and Reggie White 198 on the all-time list. Julius Peppers in New England would be too much fun, it won’t happen, but on New League Year’s eve, we can still dream.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.