When news broke that the Patriots had signed free agent safety Adrian Wilson, the initial thought here was that he padded the safety depth and would immediately bring toughness to the defense.
From a role standpoint, we don't know exactly what Wilson will be asked to do. Given his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame, Wilson is a strong in-the-box safety who ably defends against the run. In that sense, he could compete for a starting job next to Devin McCourty (that would likely mean beating out Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson for the spot).
But one area where Wilson also could add value to the Patriots is in their sub defense as a linebacker. The Patriots have a formidable trio of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower to serve as linebackers in their base defense, but both Hightower and Spikes showed coverage limitations last season.
Wilson has good ball skills and proactive athleticism, and because of his large frame could hold his own in a linebacker alignment. The Patriots have tried something similar with previous free agent signings (John Lynch and Tank Williams are names that come to mind), but the plan has never quite materialized.
That could change this season with Wilson, who has the physical skills to take on such a role. Given the increasing reliance by many teams on the passing game, the need for play-in-space linebackers has grown. Though Spikes and Hightower are critical pieces to the defense, they are better as run defenders than pass defenders. Inserting Wilson into a coverage linebacker role could allow the team to bring Spikes and Hightower off the field in nickel defense while not compromising its run defense.
We'll find out much more about Wilson and his role this offseason, and this is very much a projection based on what he has done in the past and where the team had some struggles last season. No matter how he is used, however, the feeling here is that Wilson and his toughness is an important addition to the roster.