This week, Tom E. Curran continues his examination of the Patriots’ potential free agents. Now: Dane Fletcher. Tomorrow: Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan.
Dane Fletcher probably isn’t ever going to be a week-in, week-out starter in the NFL. After four seasons here, it certainly doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen for the Patriots.
Now, whether the 27-year-old agrees with that or not will probably be the determining factor in whether he continues his career here.
Because the 6-2, 250-pound linebacker can play some. He’s a good and valuable special teams player, he is a lot better than fellow free-agent-to-be Brandon Spikes in pass coverage and he’s adequate against the run.
Still, as a defensive lineman in college, he never got the reps necessary at inside linebacker to master the spot. The 2012 season, when Fletcher blew out his knee on a preseason punt coverage, could have been big for him. It was over before it began.
In 2013, Fletcher played 18 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season according to Mike Reiss.
With Brandon Spikes likely headed elsewhere in free agency, the Patriots will need numbers, though Spikes (run-stopper) and Fletcher (sub-package linebacker) fill different roles.
If Fletcher wants a bigger role, he’s probably going to have to search for it with another team. But the Patriots will leave the light on for him if he wants to return.