The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.
We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the early season starters was DE Jabaal Sheard.
The Patriots signed Sheard to a 2-year, $11 million-dollar contract with $5 million guaranteed including a $4 million-dollar signing bonus before the 2015 season. At the time the move generated little fanfare, however, we here were firmly behind the deal thinking that Sheard would fit in well with the Pats and be productive.
Sheard had a very productive 2015 season with 8.5 sacks while playing mostly as a passing down edge rusher. With the trade of Chandler Jones prior to 2016, he was penciled in as a starter and more was expected of him. But he struggled this season and after Jamie Collins was traded, Sheard was inactive a healthy scratch.
Whatever message the coaches were trying to send, seemed to have worked. Sheard never complained publicly, he put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and saw his playing time increase a bit down the stretch. He played well in the playoffs and logged a half-sack in the Super Bowl.
He finished the year with 33 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 passes defensed, numbers which were a disappointment considering how well he played in 2015. Now he has a Super Bowl ring, is a free agent and with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent is looking to cash in.
Why Sheard Will Return: The Patriots were a good fit for Sheard and vice versa. The Patriots were initially interested in Sheard when he came out in the 2011 NFL Draft before being selected by Cleveland with the 37th pick.
Sheard is very good at setting the edge in the running game, having spent the first four years of his career in the tough, AFC North facing a plethora of good running backs. He’s a very good but not elite edge rusher, having a lot of good moves and strong hands. He can bull-rush or cut to the inside with quickness.
He’s versatile and can bump inside and be an effective interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs and can drop into passing lanes.
The quiet, soft-spoken Sheard seems to be a popular player with his teammates and can have a bounce back year if he returns opposite of Trey Flowers. With his struggles in 2016, the Patriots could bring him back at a similar deal that he signed when arriving a few years ago without breaking the bank. Sheard would know that with Chris Long being a free agent, Rob Ninkovich looking like he lost a half-step and Geneo Grissom being primarily a special teams’ player, he can get right back on track and start.
Why Sheard Won’t Return: There is always a market for edge rushers in the NFL. When someone like Sheard who can also set the edge in the running game comes along, it is a bonus because he’s not a one-trick pony and can be a three-down player.
Having just been a member of a Super Bowl-winning team, many times that translates into a player getting slightly over-paid. Sheard still young at the age of 27, would definitely fall into that category.
Spotrac’s Market Value Tool sets Sheard’s price range at an expected $44 million over five years, $8.8 million annually. That seems pretty high for Sheard, whose single-season high in sacks is 8.5 was in 2015. Per Spotrac, that would make him the league’s 12th highest-paid defensive end.
If another team offers Sheard that kind of cash, he’s long gone. The Patriots aren’t going to match that kind of offer. The New York Giants, with Jason Pierre-Paul currently a free agent, are reported to be a possible landing spot for Sheard.
And for the Patriots, they must make a decision as well. Which season was the anomaly? Was it the early 2016 season where he under-achieved? Or was 2015 just a flash in the pan?
Bottom Line: This situation will bear watching how the early days of free agency play out. The Patriots will no doubt be in the wait-and-see mode. If a team is going to shell out the kind of money that was reported above, it will no doubt be early in the process. In which case Sheard is likely gone.
If he’s still not had any suitors in the first week or so, then the chances are such that the Patriots could bring him back in a deal they feel would fit his value. If Sheard and Long (look for our profile on him soon), both leave via free agency, that will leave the Patriots very thin at defensive end. That will put them in the position of having to pay another free agent anyway and then look to the draft to rebuild their depth.
Sheard is a very good defensive end but will probably never be an All-Pro. He won’t be a star but can be a valuable piece of the puzzle for a team looking to upgrade its pass rush.
While it is possible that Sheard returns in 2017, realistically the chances are less than 30 percent at this point. The feeling here is that there will be interest in him and someone is going to shell out some decent, but not great money for Sheard. But it will be more than the Patriots will want to shell out to retain him. He will be in another uniform in Week 1 of the 2017 season.