Free agent snapshot: Desmond Bryant

by: Christopher Price on Mon, 02/11/2013 - 12:03pm

We’ve already touched on the possibility of Ed Reed as a potential Patriot here, but when free agency begins, there are a handful of less-heralded players who could appeal to New England as well. Over the next week, we’ll look at five relatively under-the-radar possibilities for the Patriots to consider when free agency opens early next month. Again, we have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class -- instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England.

DESMOND BRYANT

Position: Defensive lineman

Age: 27 (will turn 28 on Dec. 15)

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 311 pounds

The skinny: Not that Dez Bryant. This one is the Harvard-educated defensive lineman who can play as a defensive end in the 3-4 or as an interior tackle in a 4-3. Signed an a non-drafted free agent in the spring of 2009 out if the Ivy League, Bryant is a long, lean presence who has quietly developed into a pretty good defensive linemen in his four years in the league. He’s piled up 11.5 sacks over his last three seasons, including a career-best five with the Raiders in 2011, while playing both defensive tackle and defensive end. He became a full-time starter over the second-half of the 2012 season (after old pal Richard Seymour went down), and played well down the stretch. The Patriots haven’t been shy about bringing in ex-Oakland pass rushers over the last few seasons, including Trevor Scott and Derrick Burgess. And while they have had mixed results -- to be kind -- they could try and do the same with Bryant.

By the numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Bryant was graded out as a relatively average run defender (PFF had him at +1.1), but he was Oakland’s best pass rusher last season, coming away with a +16.8 grade. He was second on the team with 20 quarterback hurries and third with 11 quarterback hits, and finished the last four games of the season with a sack in each game.

Why it would work: He’s a relatively young, smart guy who is versatile -- his size would allow him to fill multiple spots in New England’s defensive front. This is a guy who filled in for Richard Seymour, who was able to play multiple spots along New England’s defensive front in his eight seasons with the Patriots. While you’re not going to be getting a 27-year-old Seymour, you might not be too far off with someone like Bryant. While he is expected to draw some interest around the league, he isn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar screen. And the Patriots should also be able to offer him a relatively cap-friendly contract that’s comparable to Oakland, but far better working conditions.

Why it might not work: There’s always the possibility that Oakland decides to slap him with the franchise tag. Less than a year after New England bailed on Jonathan Fanene, it also might have second thoughts about going back and trying again with another under-the-radar pass-rushing interior lineman. (While Fanene’s knee raised red flags, with Bryant, it’s a heart condition. He left a November game with an irregular heartbeat, but was cleared to play medically and returned to the field without incident.) And perhaps after the Patriots went out and landed defensive lineman Armond Armstead, they feel pretty good about where they are when it comes to depth along the interior of their defensive line. (Unlikely, but it’s always a possibility.)

Quote: “We don’t get too many kids in our program like Desmond. ... Genetically and physically, he looked like an SEC kid.” -- Harvard coach Tim Murphy

Our take: He certainly wouldn’t be a big splash, but Bryant is an intriguing prospect who could have a big impact defensively if properly utilized. As our pal Evan Silva of Rotoworld notes, Bryant will be an attractive offseason target: His youth, versatility and smarts make him one of the best unheralded possibilities for any team out there looking to improve its front seven, whether you’re talking about run or pass defense. If the Patriots landed him and chose to play Bryant inside, he would serve as a complement to Vince Wilfork and work with youngsters Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick when New England was in a four-man front. If he bounced outside to an end spot in the 3-4, he could provide depth and spell end-of-the-line players like Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, as well as provide some support for a pass rush that flagged for large portions of the 2012 season. While the Patriots won’t get into a bidding war for his services, if they could get him on a cap-friendly deal (something in the range of what they paid Fanene last year -- a $3.85 million signing bonus that included base salaries of $900,000, $1.9 million and $2.9 million over three years), he’d be a nice addition to a New England defensive front who could use his versatility and pass-rushing skills.