The New England Patriots had a rough couple days to begin free agency, but they made their first legitimate splash today with the signing of ex-Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard. Sheard will help a pass rush that was very inconsistent in 2014 but got bailed out by a great secondary. The secondary is not going to be as good in 2015 and the best route for the Patriots to go is to load up on the pass rush.
Sheard, 25, was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns and he contributed as soon as he stepped on the field. As a rookie, Sheard started all 16 games, making 40 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and two passes defended. Unfortunately for Sheard, he was drafted in the same class as Von Miller and Aldon Smith, so his incredible rookie season went unnoticed by most novice fans. His contributions were certainly not ignored by GM's throughout the NFL though.
Sheard was solid in 2012 too, starting all 16 games again and making 38 solo tackles, 17 assisted tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble, and three passes defended. Sheard was moved from the right to the left end but he adjusted well. 2013 and 2014 were not great years for Sheard; in '13, he started all 13 games he was healthy for and still piled up 5.5 sacks, but his tackles were way down (19 solo, 17 assists).
In '14, Sheard was hoping to rebound going into free agency, but he ended up having a rough year, only starting five of 16 games and only making two sacks. He was able to provide 25 solo tackles and 19 assisted tackles, but his big plays were non-existent. It is important to note that Sheard excelled in the 4-3 during the 2011 and '12 seasons and his struggles began when he started playing in the 3-4 in 2013. New England used both formations last year, so expect to see Sheard deployed as a 4-3 defensive end next season.
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, who broke the news of the signing, reports that the deal is for two years/$11 million dollars. In 2015, Sheard will earn $4M in bonus dollars with a $1M base salary, and vice-versa in 2016, along with $1M in roster bonuses.