New England Patriots gettin’ jiggy wit Will Smith

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Will Smith is officially a New England Patriot. ESPN’s Mike Reiss and Field Yates announced the acquisition on Monday.

Smith has spent the last eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints after they drafted him with the 18th overall pick in 2004. Smith – who will be 33 by the time the 2014 season gets underway – will be returning from a torn ACL he suffered last August. If he does return to form, he will provide the Patriots with some valuable depth at defensive end. Due to his age and injury history, Smith can no longer be considered a viable starter. But that’s why Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are there. What Smith can provide is a dangerous pass rushing presence in sub packages.

Worst case scenario is he can’t come back from the ACL tear and doesn’t even make the roster. Best case scenario is he brings double digit sacks off the bench, just like Andre Carter did for New England in 2011. Tough to say which scenario is more likely to play out. It will probably fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless, the signing does change the current make-up of the Patriots’ roster. That also means it changes what they will be doing in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Defensive end was on the shortlist of needs for the Patriots, and was almost sure to be addressed at some point in the draft. Now, maybe not so much. Smith joins Jones, Ninkovich, Jake Bequette, and Michael Buchanan as defensive ends on the active roster. I’d bet the house that Jones and Ninko will find themselves on the 53-man roster come early September. Smith and Buchanan are also good bets, with Smith’s overall track record and Buchanan’s flashes of rookie brilliance getting them on board. Bequette could find himself on the outside looking in because he just hasn’t lived up to the reputation that made him a third-round pick in the 2012 draft.

Four solid defensive ends could be all the Patriots need. At the very least, it shifts their top priorities in the draft away from defensive end and toward other holes in the roster. Namely, defensive tackle. With a lot of the pre-draft focus on the defensive line, that is where I expect to see the ripple effect of this signing touch first. And by first, I mean first round.

If the Patriots can find elite talent at defensive tackle towards the end of the first round, they should jump at the opportunity. If the pick pans out along with Will Smith, the Patriots could have a fearsome front four in 2014.

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