Patriots positional review: Linebackers

Patriots positional review: Linebackers
February 18, 2014, 8:15 pm
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PATRIOTS TALK

Tom E. Curran continues his position-by-position analysis of the Patriots as we head into the offseason. Today: Linebackers. Tomorrow: Cornerbacks
 
JEROD MAYO
AGE: 28 (2/23/86)
STATS:  6 games, 55 tackles, 1.5 sacks.
CONTRACT: Expires after 2017
2014 CAP HIT: $7,287,500 ($3.25M salary, $3.6M prorated bonus, $500K roster bonus, $250K workout bonus)
 
Through the tail end of 2012 and into this season, Mayo was playing at a very high level. He’d been a little strapped by the limitations of rookie Donta Hightower and the freewheeling Brandon Spikes, but the three found a good chemistry. Then Mayo ripped a pec and was put on IR. He’s fully healed from that now and the experience gained by Hightower and Jamie Collins should put the linebacker level in better stead than it was in 2013. Mayo’s cap hit jumps to a high of $10.6M next season so he could be a renegotiation target in 2015.
 
DONT'A HIGHTOWER
AGE: 23 (3/12/90)
STATS: 16 games, 97 tackles, 1 sack
CONTRACT: Expires after 2015
2014 CAP HIT: $2,106,546 ($1,092,182 salary, $1,014,364 prorated bonus,
 
After a pretty good rookie year, Hightower was primed to make strides in 2013. The loss of Mayo put a load on his plate that was difficult for him for a big swath of time in the middle of the season. To his credit, he improved incredibly down the stretch and was playing with confidence and ferocity as the season ended. His ability to communicate the defenses after Mayo went down took a while but he was solid at the end of the year.
 

JAMIE COLLINS
AGE: 24 (10/20/89)
STATS: 16 games, 43 tackles
CONTRACT: Expires after 2016
2014 CAP HIT: $854,733 ($575,955 salary, $278,818 prorated bonus)
 
Eased into use by first being used on special teams and in spot duty, but his workload increased toward the end of the season and he was able to show his versatility as a guy who can cover tight ends down the field, be a factor in the running game and run like a deer. He is the kind of player the Patriots covet because of his ability to do a number of things.
 
                                                                       
BRANDON SPIKES
AGE: 26 (9/3/87)
STATS: 16 games, 86 tackles, 1 INT
CONTRACT: Expired  
2014 CAP HIT: free agent

A classic run-stopping linebacker who is very limited in pass coverage, Spikes’ 2013 season was one that started slowly as the Patriots wouldn’t use him against wide-open offenses. But after injuries to the defensive line and linebackers made the run defense horrific, Spikes’ role increased and he played well for a long spell until a sore knee slowed him significantly. The knee eventually landed Spikes on IR. His decision to not show up for the final day of meetings and practice before the Patriots playoff bye likely contributed to the decision. Odds are he’ll be playing somewhere else in 2014.
 
DANE FLETCHER
AGE: 27 (9/14/86)
STATS: 15 games, 26 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
CONTRACT: Expired
2014 CAP HIT: free agent
 
A core special teamer and situational linebacker who flashes well in spot duty, Fletcher’s carved out a decent role for himself in New England. If he’s seeking a bigger role, he may have to seek it elsewhere but he’d probably be welcomed back.