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However, back in reality, the Patriots find themselves in a difficult position with the salary cap. As things currently stand, the Patriots are only $3.9 million under the projected $126.3 million cap for 2014. They will certainly be moves coming to save some money for this year, but much of that will likely be used to address pending free agents like Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman.
Because of this cap situation, the Patriots appear unlikely to have the kind of space to make a major splash in free agency. However, there could be some more affordable, under-the-radar targets out there that could make sense for this team to pursue. I'll be taking a look at some of those players in the next month or so here at PatriotsLife, starting today with Arthur Jones.
Name: Arthur Jones
Team: Baltimore Ravens (4 years)
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2013 Stats: 13 starts, 53 tackles, 4 sacks
PFF Ranking: Profootballfocus list Jones as the fourth best interior defensive lineman on the market, due to a rock solid +15.7 grade in their metrics last season.
Fit: Jones (yes, he's Chandler's older brother) makes sense for the Patriots, particularly at this juncture, because of his versatility. At 315 pounds, Jones has a nice combination of power and athleticism that makes him a productive pass rusher, particularly inside where he can use that explosiveness against slower guards. However, he also was a solid run defender in Baltimore, where he spent a decent amount of time playing as a 3-4 defensive end.
This flexibility is a major added bonus for a Patriots team hurting for depth at both end and tackle. Starting ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were #1 and 2 in the league amongst defensive linemen in snaps played, taking on a ridiculous workload that likely affected their ability to rush the passer at times. Giving those guys a breather once in a while would do them a great bit of good. At tackle, the Patriots are counting on two guys over the age of 32 in Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, one of whom is coming off of a ruptured Achilles and the other from knee surgery. The Patriots would like to be able to limit both of those guy's snap counts, but the Patriots don't appear to have much behind them other than Sealver Siliga, who is more of a run stuffing space eater than a pass rusher. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano both struggled to anchor down against the run in 2013 and the Patriots have few other options in house.
Signing Jones would help the Patriots on both fronts. His ability as an interior pass rusher would help spare Wilfork some snaps on third downs and other obvious passing situation, while also serving as an upgrade over Wilfork's pedestrian pass rushing numbers. Likewise, Jone's ability to flex out to end could make him an option on early downs, giving them the chance to spell his brother and Ninkovich. Jones would also provide solid insurance at either position should injuries befall any of the starters on the defensive line.
Likelihood: It wouldn't shock me if the Patriots took a look at Jones, but there's a lot of variables that could prevent this signing from coming to fruition. For starters, the Patriots top priority this free agency is almost certainly finding a way to keep Aqib Talib. Keeping Talib, be it by the franchise tag or a new, longer-term contract, will likely take up a sizeable chunk of whatever cap space the Patriots can create.
Therefore, it will likely depend on how big the market for Jones' services. Jones' relatively young age and steady improvement throughout his career are both selling points, but he lacks the kind of big statistical production generally tied to big contracts. However, it only takes one team to push a players market out of realistic range, and the Patriots are not in position to compete if someone offers Jones a similar offer to the 5 year, $34 million deal the Browns gave Desmond Bryant last year. However, if the market for Jones falls closer than the 2 year, $4.5 million Terrance Knighton got from Denver, the Patriots might be in business.
Essentially, if Jones does manage to fall through the cracks, the Patriots could be in position to come up with a steal. If not, look for Jones to gleefully chase ice cream trucks somewhere else this offseason, with the Patriots looking to supplement the defensive line either through the draft or less expensive free agents.
For a complete list of the Call to Arms series, click here
Let us know in the comment section what you think of two Jones brothers on the Pats