FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the New England Patriots' top priorities this offseason is to fortify and bolster the defensive end spot, as a result of three factors:
Starter Rob Ninkovich enters the final year of his contract in 2017, and, having just turned 33 on Feb. 1, he's obviously closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
Pass-rushing reserve Chris Long already said he won't be returning.
That leaves impressive third-year player Trey Flowers (team-high seven sacks in 2016) as the only defensive end who projected as a big part of both the short- and long-term picture in New England (2015 third-round pick Geneo Grissom is viewed as more of a special-teamer at this point).
Ealy entered the NFL as a 2014 second-round draft choice out of Missouri, going 60th overall to the Panthers, which reflects how he was one of the higher-touted prospects coming out of the draft. Since that time, one of the knocks on him has been inconsistency. He gets a fresh start in New England, and there have been plenty of similar situations over the years in which that has brought out the best in players.
A key consideration in the deal is that Ealy enters the final year of his contract, so this could be a one-and-done situation. But an eight-spot slide in the draft and a base salary of $803,660 is a minimal cost to the Patriots, even if that turns out to be the case.
But if Ealy performs well and it becomes a longer-term situation, it would be the most ideal scenario for New England at a position that was due for a restocking this offseason.