When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton from the Browns last offseason, there was a high level of expectation attached to him. A former first round pick (12th overall in 2015) the school of thought on Shelton was that had played well in his time with the Browns but with Greg Williams coming in as Defensive Coordinator, there would be no space for Shelton in his 4-3 scheme.
A 3rd round pick, (with a 5th going the other way) seemed like a small price to pay for what could potentially be Vince Wilfork’s replacement. At age 25, Shelton still has potential to realise. His 6ft 2”, 345lb frame are reminiscent of Wilfork as the heads up Nose-Tackle who will absorb double-team blocks leaving space for the other linemen to take care of business in the backfield. Quite quickly into the 2018 season, it appeared that those comparisons appeared to be misplaced.
A positive outcome from the trade from the Patriots point of view is that they declined his 5th year option meaning that he would be a free agent at the end of the season, but it also meant that they would not be on the hook for a large contract for a player new to the system. This proved to be a shrewd move as Shelton flattered to deceive in Foxborough.
The expectation going into the season was that Shelton would be flanked by Brown and Guy in a 3-4 front but the Patriots predominantly played a 4-3, 3-4 hybrid scheme to keep the opponents guessing. This resulted in a diminished role for Shelton who found only a niche role on running plays. It may have been as a result of the lack of consistent action that affected his play but he never really looked like the dominant player his pedigree and physique would have you believe. Shelton even was a healthy scratch for 3 games towards the end of the season before returning for the playoff run.
As expected Shelton was released at the end of the season, but brought him back a few weeks after free-agency period had died down. The Patriots obviously saw some value in having him back, but the contract he was given proved the scarcity of interest in him – 1-year $1m with only $75,000 guaranteed. It is a very “cuttable” contract.
So, what is his roster situation like looking forward to 2019? At the Defensive interior, the Patriots let Malcom Brown and Trey Flowers hit free-agency and have signed Mike Pennel and drafted Byron Cowart (a 5th round pick) and David Parry on a futures contract. Conceivably Shelton has less competition for a roster spot this year, at least on the surface anyway.
Realistically, from a numbers point of view, they are in Shelton’s favour. Whilst his contract is small, it also means that he would be very cheap to keep if he manages to turn a corner in pre-season. What Shelton needs to do is show the coaching staff that he is more than just a 2-down player. The Patriots preach versatility, particularly from their D-Linemen, it adds complexity for the Offense and also means they can run multiple fronts using the same personnel. Having Shelton line up over the Centre is too one-dimensional.
Returning to the numbers, this time the amount of roster spaces, purely based on last season the Patriots had 11 Defensive Linemen on the roster at the end of the year with none on Injured-Reserve. At the moment there are 15 on the roster, (this number will of course change) but the signs point to Shelton possibly making the roster. If we list the top eight Defensive Linemen currently with the Patriots you have:
One could argue that these players are roster locks, the competition for the remaining ⅔ spots is currently between;
Byron Cowart (rookie 5th rounder)
Keionta Davis (UDFA last season who fell out of favour)
Trent Harris (2018 Practice Squad member)
Ufomba Kamalu (signed as a free agent in October ‘18 and featured sparingly)
David Parry (futures/reserve contract)
Nick Thurman (UDFA 2019)
Looking at the above it wouldn’t surprise me if the Patriots looked to bring in a bit more depth via a trade or a camp cut from another team. Even given his performances from last season, Shelton is on the bubble. However, he remains on the right side of it…for now.
-Luke O’Brien is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @lukeobrienNFL