FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Following a 2015 season in which they built excellent depth at defensive tackle, the New England Patriots have been depleted at the position, which has sparked a visit with free-agent Terrance Knighton early this week, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Here's how things have unfolded:
When the 2015 season concluded, the Patriots had a stocked depth chart with starters Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, along with top backups Dominique Easley, Akiem Hicks, Sealver Siliga and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen. Fourth-year player Chris Jones, who spent the 2015 season on injured reserve, is also part of the snapshot.
The Patriots hoped to keep that depth intact, and that started with a late push to retain Hicks, an unrestricted free agent who ultimately inked a two-year, $10 million deal with Chicago. New England was offering a longer-term deal with a lower average per year, and Hicks -- after also considering overtures from the Seahawks and Jets -- decided the Bears were his best fit.
Meanwhile, Siliga was a restricted free agent and the Patriots didn't tender him a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. A low tender of $1.67 million almost certainly would have ensured Siliga's return, but that was deemed a bit too rich for New England, which made a late push to bring Siliga back on a cheaper deal. But Siliga, who slipped out of favor as 2015 unfolded, liked the idea of a fresh start with the Seahawks (one year, $1.2 million).
So with those two holes in the depth chart -- coupled with Easley's injury history, Branch's history with early conditioning struggles in training camp and Jones coming off a serious calf injury -- the Patriots' search has been intensified for reinforcements.
Having already signed Washington unrestricted free-agent Frank Kearse to a one-year deal, the Patriots met with free-agent Nick Fairley last week at the NFL's annual meeting, but Fairley decided over the weekend to sign with the Saints.
Knighton turns 30 on July 4, is from Hartford, Connecticut, played in college at Temple, and has been with Jacksonville (2009-2012), Denver (2013-2014) and Washington (2015). At 6-foot-3 and 354 pounds, he's in the mold of a more traditional nose tackle.
VIEW FROM WASHINGTON: “The Redskins still have some interest in Knighton, though they clearly aren’t yet sold on bringing him back considering there hasn’t been much contact. However, it’s possible they’d try to re-sign him if, for example, they don’t draft a nose tackle. But there’s no doubt the Redskins wanted more from the position than they received from Knighton last season. His play improved late as he started making more plays and being more of a presence, but they also wanted him to be in much better shape -- something Knighton knows he must do, and sounds like he has been doing. If this happens, he could be a bargain. Knighton showed that he could still command double-teams, but the Redskins’ run defense wasn’t very good (it was a little better with him on the field, though). He’s a good leader and strong veteran voice in the locker room.” -- John Keim, ESPN NFL Nation Redskins reporter