Marcus Spears (DAL)
Spears has plenty of experience playing defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, but he’s never quite lived up to his first-round billing in Dallas. He still seems to generate a decent push in the pass rush, but he doesn’t seem to have the elite finishing skills needed to rack up double-digit sacks. If the Pats plan on upgrading the linebacker position and/or relying on growth from Jermaine Cunningham to help generate a pass rush, Spears would make sense if he’s not asking for a boatload of money. He will be 28 this year and is an unrestricted free agent.
Brandon Mebane (SEA)
After showing flashes of brilliance for the Seahawks in 2008 with 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles from the defensive tackle position, Mebane has struggled with consistency and injuries over the past two years. He has a thick frame at 6’1” and 311 pounds and plays very well against the run. The downsides on Mebane is that he’d need to transition to a 3-4 after playing in a 4-3 in Seattle, and he is a restricted free agent who is likely to get a high tender. While the Patriots have plenty of picks to spare, something like a first-round pick would be a lot to give up for a player that would need to learn to play the five-technique.
Alan Branch (ARI)
Branch is another player who failed to live up to his lofty billing in the draft. He was taken early in the second round of the 07 draft as a DE/DT hybrid, but he has recorded just three starts. He did show flashes in 2010 with a pair of sacks and a career-high in tackles, and his monumental 6’6”, 338-pound frame gives him the versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line. He will be a restricted free agent, but with other higher-priority RFAs on the Arizona roster such as Tim Hightower and Early Doucet, there is a chance he could be available at a reasonable cost. He would be an interesting reclamation project for Belichick and Co.
Richard Seymour (OAK)
We’ve heard over and over that the Patriots need a Seymour-type of player to compliment Wilfork on the defensive line. So why not test the waters to see if Seymour would be willing to come back? The price tag might be a little bit steep for the Pats to sign a player who is going to command big money and is on the wrong side of 30, but he would bring another strong veteran presence on a defense that is sorely lacking veteran leadership. Of course, Seymour wasn’t too happy when the Patriots traded him a few years ago, and Al Davis has never been afraid of busting out the checkbook. I’d put the odds of him ending up with the Patriots at a generous 20-1.
Jason Babin (TEN)
Babin will be one of the big-ticket free agents on the defensive line this year after recording a career-high 12.5 sacks last year, but he has struggled in almost every other uniform he’s donned in his seven-year career. He’s also a bit undersized to play DE in a 3-4. He’s almost certain to sign with a 4-3 team, likely leaving New England out of the running.
Mathias Kiwanuka (NYG)
Kiwanuka has been a disruptive force for the Giants when healthy. He will be 28 on Opening Day, so he should still have a number of productive years ahead of him. However, he is more of an edge rusher in a 4-3 defense. Although he’s played some linebacker and defensive end, I’m not sure how he’d transition to a 3-4 DE. He would probably fit in better as a linebacker than a defensive lineman in a 3-4. He’s likely to get a nice deal somewhere, but I’d be surprised if it was in New England.
Ray Edwards (MIN)
Edwards is another young, productive player who comes from a team that plays a 4-3 defense. He’s a little bigger than Kiwanuka, but still might be slightly undersized for the 3-4 DE position. You also have to wonder how good he would be outside of Minnesota considering he almost never sees a double-team with Jared Allen on the other side and the Williams Wall commanding attention from the interior line. I really can’t see him landing in New England.