Patriots

What the Chase Winovich trade says about the Patriots’ direction at linebacker

The Patriots gave Chase Winovich a change of scenery while grabbing a player in Mack Wilson that fits their current needs at linebacker.

Chase Winovich Patriots
The New England Patriots are moving on from Chase Winovich. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
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Though the Patriots continue to largely sit still through the 2022 NFL free agency period in terms of signing players, they’re still apparently open for business. Their player-for-player swap of Chase Winovich for Cleveland reserve linebacker Mack Wilson stands out as their splashiest move so far this week.

Trading Winovich served the Patriots in two ways. First, the deal offloads a player with an expiring contract who simply wasn’t doing much in New England. Winovich registered just four pressures all of last season, didn’t have a sack, and got buried on the depth chart to the point where he was a healthy scratch for the Patriots’ lone playoff game. (Put N’Keal Harry in that category as well, for what it’s worth…)

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Secondly, it creates an opening for a player in Wilson who fell out of the Cleveland linebacker rotation after his rookie season but fits the off-ball linebacker build the Patriots said they were looking for this offseason: fast, athletic, and more capable in coverage.

The connection Wilson has to New England scouting consultant Eliot Wolf, who was Cleveland’s assistant general manager when the Browns drafted Wilson in 2019, and the fact that the fourth-year linebacker Wilson played at Alabama likely helped facilitate that move as well.

Looking beyond just Wilson, though, the trade might also signal a shift in how the Patriots view linebackers, at least in the short term.

Of the six potential off-ball linebackers the Patriots currently have on their roster — Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, Terez Hall, Jahlani Tavai and Anfernee Jennings — only Tavai and Jennings (both reserve-caliber players) are listed as heavier than 245 pounds.

That’s quite a difference compared to Dont’a Hightower (260 pounds) and Ja’Whaun Bentley (255 pounds), the team’s two starting off-ball linebackers from a year ago. Both are currently free agents.

Last season exposed the speed limitations of Hightower and Bentley, who are considered more throwback-style players in a league that increasingly values speed over size and strength. Though New England could potentially bring one of them back to serve as a complementary piece, it seems as if the Patriots, who typically like to go against the grain when it suits them, might now be seeking to catch up to the new wave of thinking at the position.

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Assuming the players in front of them, namely Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore, do their jobs, having a faster off-ball linebacker group might erase some of the big plays the Patriots gave up later in the 2022 season.

As far as the outside linebackers, look for explosive young edge-rushers Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins to truly get a chance to shine alongside Matthew Judon with Winovich out of the picture.

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