Free-agent fit: Defensive line

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
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Fifth in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 13.

Position: Defensive line

[+] EnlargeMark Anderson
AP Photo/Matt SlocumShould the Patriots bring back Mark Anderson?
Players under contract for 2012: Ron Brace, Markell Carter (OLB possibility), Jermaine Cunningham (OLB possibility), Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love (exclusive rights), Myron Pryor, Alex Silvestro, Vince Wilfork

Level of need: High

Projected top targets: Mark Anderson (Patriots), Andre Carter (Patriots), Luis Castillo (Chargers)

Why Anderson fits: He was one of the team's best free-agent signings last year and he knows the system. He totaled 10 sacks in the regular season and 2.5 in the playoffs while playing in 47 percent of the snaps. The big question is determining what he is from a market perspective -- a part-time rusher or full-time option? He was solid in the full-time role late in the year.

Why Carter fits: Consummate pro. Like Anderson, he was one of the Patriots' best free-agent signings last year. There is mutual interest.

Why Castillo fits: If healthy, he could be an undervalued asset in the marketplace after missing most of last season. A 2005 first-round pick, he has experience in a different type of 3-4 defense, but has the versatility to play in a multiple scheme like the Patriots'.

Other names of note: John Abraham (Falcons), Dave Ball (Titans), Raheem Brock (Seahawks), Red Bryant (Seahawks), Tim Bulman (Texans), Brodrick Bunkley (Broncos), Adam Carriker (Redskins), Shaun Ellis (Patriots), Jonathan Fanene (Bengals), Derrick Harvey (Broncos), Jason Jones (Titans), Jeremy Mincey (Jaguars), Amobi Okoye (Bears), Sione Pouha (Jets), Paul Soliai (Dolphins), Gerard Warren (Patriots).

Market conditions: Plenty of options for teams in the market, and the top-end talent in the draft is also viewed as pretty strong, so this is a good year for a team like the Patriots to be eyeing this position. It's always smart business to draft and develop players, but that seems especially true along the defensive line, as it is one of the positions that generally commands big money once those players hit free agency.

Questions to answer at position: Do the Patriots want Vince Wilfork playing 87 percent of the snaps again? ... In playing a sub defense about 65 percent of the snaps, does that alter the financial parameters for an edge rusher in free agency? ... Who's the interior sub rusher in the Mike Wright-type/Myron Pryor-type role? ... Does 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham, who dipped from 50-percent playing time in 2010 to 3.6 percent in 2011, still have a future with the club? ... Ditto for 2009 second-round pick Ron Brace (25.7 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent in 2011)?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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