Ja’Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots celebrates after tackling Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
There’s been a lot made about the Patriots getting smaller, quicker, and more athletic at linebacker this offseason. While some of the team’s transitions have suggested a move in that direction, there’s still a place for a big, downhill, run-stopping MIKE linebacker.
That role is expected to be at least partially filled on Friday, with ESPN’s Mike Reiss reporting that the team is “closing in on an agreement” to re-sign 25-year-old linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, No details of the pending agreement have been announced.
UPDATE: Bentley’s new contract is a two-year deal worth up to $9 million, per Ian Rapoport,
At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Bentley has taken on a key role in the middle of the Patriots’ defense on early downs the last two seasons. He played a career-high 73 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps and was a team captain in 2020 when Dont’a Hightower opted out. When Hightower returned last season Bentley still played a pivotal role, leading the team with 108 tackles while playing 69 percent of the snaps. Bentley was originally drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round in 2018.
Bentley’s apparent re-signing comes as signs indicate the team may be looking to lean more towards athleticism than size at the position moving forward. Earlier this week, they traded for coverage linebacker Mack Wilson, and also met with a number of linebackers fitting that profile at the NFL Combine two weeks ago.
Yet as NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry shared on Thursday, the Patriots may not be looking for a full overhaul at the position, but rather would like to diversify the skillsets of the group. In that sense, Bentley’s return gives them a missing piece.
The Patriots have two remaining free agent linebackers in Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. If the Patriots are looking to move on from having mostly downhill middle linebackers, Bentley’s new deal could be a sign that Hightower could end up elsewhere. Meanwhile, Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald reported on Friday that there has been “no progress” between the Patriots and Collins on a new contract.
With those two still unsigned, the Patriots currently have six true middle linebackers under contract for the 2022 season in Bentley, Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, Harvey Langi, and Jahlani Tavai. Terez Hall and Anfernee Jennings project as players who can play a number of linebacker spots as well. Although he’s just 25, Bentley has more NFL reps to his name than just about any player in that group. Given what the Patriots ask of players at the position, having his experience back in that room is also a boost as he can serve as a ‘veteran’ presence.
NFL Free Agent Tracker: Friday, March 18
NFL Free Agent Tracker: Thursday, March 17
NFL Free Agent Tracker: Wednesday, March 16
NFL Free Agent Tracker: Tuesday, March 15
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected],