Sudden impact: Ray Edwards

(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

Player: Ray Edwards (defensive end/outside linebacker, Vikings)

Why sign him? The most talked-about deficiency of the Patriots’ defense in recent seasons has been the pass rush. Last season, a revolving door at outside linebacker that included veterans Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Shawn Crable, and Eric Moore, as well as rookie Jermaine Cunningham, failed to produce consistent pressure on the quarterback. Edwards, despite having spent his career to date as a 4-3 defensive end in Minnesota, has the size (6-foot-5, 268 pounds) to play outside linebacker in 3-4 defense. In 14 games last season, Edwards tallied eight sacks.

Is there anybody else? Top options on the market at the position, Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, have been franchise tagged. However, Carolina’s Charles Johnson and Tennessee’s Jason Babin recorded 11.5 and 12.5 sacks last season, respectively. The Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka and Cleveland’s Matt Roth are other options with pass rushing potential.

Key stats:

• Defensive lineman Mike Wright’s 5.5 sacks last season led the Patriots’ defense.

• The Patriots defense registered sacks on only 3.7 percent of dropbacks with four or fewer pass rushers last season (tied for 27th in NFL).

• The Patriots rushed four or fewer pass rushers on 73.7 percent of dropbacks last season (fourth-highest percentage in NFL).

• New England’s front seven registered 32 tackles for loss last season (tied for 29th in NFL).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.