Veteran DE is still just 27 and entering prime of his career
The Patriots pulled off quite the steal last spring when they signed DE Jabaal Sheard via free agency from the Cleveland Browns. At the time, his two-year $11 million-dollar contract generated little on the national stage but like many of Bill Belichick’s moves, it was a bargain for the team. Now Sheard joins the ranks of those players deserving of a new deal.
Sheard fit right in with the Patriots at the DE position, logging in eight sacks and 58 quarterback pressures in 2015, and according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was the third rated defensive end for setting the edge against the run.
Sheard provided the Patriots with a versatile defensive end who joined Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones as an end of the line player who can set the edge in the running game, get after the quarterback and was even able to kick inside and give the team a decent interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs.
Cleveland, with so many changes in coaches and philosophy, never really quite figured out a way to utilize Sheard’s talents. As a result, his loss was the Patriots gain, despite him not being one of the premiere free agents from a year ago. Sheard, along with last season’s draft picks Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson gives the team a versatile, impactful group that is just scratching the surface of their potential.
Jabaal Sheard made his presence felt immediately last season and became a big part of the Patriots front seven. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans image)
His versatility was not lost on Bill Belichick, who recognized his value late last season.
“We put Chandler (Jones), inside some in the past and we’ve done that some this year, but Jabaal has actually played in there more,” Belichick said. “That’s something that, as I said, in Cleveland, he primarily played on the left side. He was on right end, too, but primarily on the end of the line. You rarely, if ever, saw him inside, and this year when we put him in there early in the season and in training camp he had some very productive plays …
“Jabaal, in particular, has been able to do some things he hasn’t done before like playing inside and playing some pass-coverage responsibilities. He’s done very well in picking that up and giving us a lot of production.”
The team felt comfortable enough with the group that they traded Jones to Arizona this spring for guard Jonathan Cooper and a draft pick. They then signed veteran Chris Long from the Rams. But it will be Sheard that will step up into Jones starting role and he should be close to the top of the list of impactful veterans that need to be resigned.
With Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Malcolm Butler all due for new contracts, Sheard is nearly as important a signing when talking in terms of a new deal. He’s currently in the last year of that two-year deal and with Ninkovich and Long both on the wrong side of 30 and the younger players still mostly unproven, it would behoove the Patriots to get his deal done sooner rather than later as he still has quite a few years of peak performance left.
With the abundance of big players being added to the interior of the defensive line this offseason, the onus will be placed on the players at the end of the line to be the playmakers. In Sheard, Ninkovich, Long, Flowers, Grissom and Johnson, the Patriots have a deep and productive group on the edge. With plenty of potential and versatility, they have on paper, an even better front seven than a year ago. Now they’ll just have to come together and play well. With Sheard, Flowers, Grissom, and Johnson all entering their second year in the Patriots system, there is no reason not to believe that they will all improve in 2016.
Long has embraced the team’s way and has gone out of his way to credit Ninkovich with showing him the ropes. Sheard isn’t a demonstrative type, he’s much quieter and prefers to let his playing do the talking. While he’ll never be a quote machine, he’s a player that should have a big role in 2016. It promises to be an exciting summer watching the edge rushers jockey for position and snaps during training camp. Sheard will be at the forefront of the players to watch.
Now the Patriots need to do an extension with him before he hits the open market again. This time, it will promise to be a much bigger market for his services.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 Patriots Roster 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Chris Long Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots defensive ends Patriots edge rushers Patriots free agents Rob Ninkovich Rufus Johnson Tom Brady Trey Flowers