One of the more compelling questions for the Patriots in free agency is how far they financially extend themselves for defensive end Mark Anderson.
Anderson, who enters his seventh NFL season in 2012, was one of the Patriots' best free-agent signings last year. He played on a one-year, $1.375 million contract (he had been hoping for more and called the free-agent process humbling upon his arrival), and produced 10 regular-season sacks and 2.5 in the playoffs. He never missed a game, appearing in 47 percent of the defensive snaps.
Part of what makes Anderson's situation interesting to me is that he wasn't a full-time player through the first 15 games of the year. But then he became a full-time player in the final four games -- the season finale against the Bills and the three playoff games. Anderson's bump up to full-time duties came in part because of Andre Carter's season-ending quad injury, and he played well with the extended work.
So what is Anderson?
Is he a full-time guy? Or better suited as a nickel rusher/situational option?
This is the same question that the Bears had with Anderson in 2007, the year after Anderson posted 12.5 sacks as a rookie entering the league as a fifth-round draft choice. After Anderson's work as a sub rusher in that impressive rookie campaign, the Bears tried him in a full-time role and it didn't work out.
This is also similar to the question the Patriots had with Tully Banta-Cain in 2010. Banta-Cain had come back to New England in '09 on a modest one-year deal, posted 10 sacks in mostly a sub-rushing role, and earned a three-year extension averaging $4.5 million per season.
The Banta-Cain extension didn't work out as the Patriots hoped, and it makes one wonder if it will be part of the team's mindset with Anderson.
This is part of the challenge for teams in free agency.
EXTRA POINT: Dan Pompei mentions Anderson in his "Sunday Blitz" piece on the National Football Post website as a player who will get some action on the free-agent market.