In agreeing to a free-agent contract with Bengals defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene, the Patriots played the role of the sniper. The team and Fanene agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal, with a $3.85 million signing bonus, without Fanene even visiting Gillette Stadium.
The lack of a free-agent visit for Fanene speaks to how the Patriots had him in their sights from the opening of free agency on Tuesday.
Fanene was a player they identified weeks ago as a primary target because of a combination of affordability, versatility, production and need.
Affordability. This isn't a big-money signing. It's a good deal for Fanene, for sure, but far from the Red Bryant $7 million-per-year signing in Seattle. The Bengals probably viewed the $4 million per year for Fanene as rich for a player who played 45 percent of time. For the Patriots, who figure to play him a bit more, the money works (close to Shaun Ellis money from 2011).
Versatility. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Fanene can play all across the line. He was primarily a 4-3 end with the Bengals, and he reduced inside as a rusher in passing situations. The feeling here is that his greatest value will come in a Mike Wright type of role as an interior rusher, but he could also factor as an end in early-down base situations.
Production. Fanene had 6.5 sacks last season in part-time duty.
Need. Outside of Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, the Patriots have questions along the defensive line. Wilfork played 87 percent of the snaps last season, a high total, and Fanene's work as an interior rusher could help spell Wilfork in certain situations to keep him fresh. This shouldn't affect the possible re-signings of rush ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson.
Summing up the move: This isn't a sizzling free-agent signing, but it's a smart one.
On March 4, we wrote: "Here’s an under-the-radar player to file away when it comes to free agency – Bengals defensive end Jonathan Fanene. The eight-year veteran had 6.5 sacks last season in a part-time role and has some position versatility. Could see him as a value-type pickup for the Patriots as they look to build more quality depth up front."