The Ides of March began with a trade for the New England Patriots.
The Pats are reportedly set to acquire linebacker Mack Wilson from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for fellow linebacker Chase Winovich, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. At this time, the deal is not expected to include additional players or commodities.
Winovich was New England’s third-round selection in the 2019 draft. During his three-year tenure in Foxboro, the Michigan product went on to appear in 46 combined regular season and playoff games for the team. He will finish his time with the Pats having compiled 85 total tackles (10 for loss), two passes defensed, one forced fumble and 11 sacks, including a team-high 5.5 in 2020.
Winovich’s energy and personality made him a fan-favorite in New England. When he is at his best, the 26-year-old brings a non-stop motor to the edge rush/outside linebacker position. To do that, however, he must see the field. Throughout his three seasons as a pro, Winovich has been hampered by various injuries. He began the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) and also had a stay on injured reserve, due to a hamstring injury. Still, he remained intent to focus on his consistency; especially when it comes to funneling run plays into the middle. As a result, many expected him to see notable snaps as an off-the-ball defender, or as a package-specific pass rusher.
However, things did not exactly go according to plan for both Winovich and the Patriots. Last season, He registered only six solo tackles, one quarterback hit and zero sacks in 113 defensive snaps. He has also played 161 snaps on special teams, primarily in the kicking game. Still, what might be most surprising is that Winovich played on only 14 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in 2021, especially after having played on 58 percent in 2020. He did not take a defensive snap for New England during their playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, leading many to question his continuing role in New England. In Cleveland, Winovich should return to more of his natural, outside role, in hopes of re-kindling the talent he still very much possesses.
Enter Mack Wilson
Wilson began his career as a fifth-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in 2019. The Alabama product played 14 games in his rookie season, logging 82 total tackles (four, for loss), seven passes defensed, one forced fumble, one sack and one interception. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a starting position but Cleveland during his first-year as a pro.
However, Wilson’s playing time steadily began to dip over the past two seasons; decreasing from 88 percent in 2019 to 43 percent in 2020 to 21 percent last season. In 2021, Wilson served primarily in a rotational, off-the-ball role. He played a regular role on special teams, which he maintained throughout that decline. Despite the reduction in playing time, Wilson made the most of his time on the field, earning a career-best 75.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, in just 193 defensive snaps.
For those scaring at home, Wilson does have his injury concerns. In each of his last two seasons, the 24-year-old has missed at least three games throughout the year. This has been due to an ongoing knee injury which he suffered in 2020. During the 2021 preseason, Wilson was dealing with a shoulder injury, as well.
From a financial standpoint, the move is relatively low-risk for New England. Wilson’s contract carries only $77, 201 in dead cap money, making it very easy for the Patriots to move on, if the union with him does not live up to their expectations, As Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan pointed out on Thursday morning, Wilson’s acquisition will lower the team’s current cap space to $6,843,445. Wilson’s salary for the 2022 season is $2.54 million compared to Winovich’s $965,000. While Winovich did not log enough playing time to earn a raise in the final year of his rookie contract via the NFL’s Proven Performance Escalator. On the other hand Wilson did; resulting in the pay increase.
In the final analysis, there is some uncertainty, but tremendous upside in bringing Mack Wilson aboard in New England. With the Patriots looking to get younger, and faster at the linebacker position, he will clearly help in that regard. In New England’s system, he will project as an inside linebacker, playing off-the-ball. Wilson has the speed and athleticism to earn a starting position. Wilson joins Raekwon McMillan, Jahlani Tavai, Terez Hall, Cameron McGrone and potentially Anfernee Jennings on the inside linebackers depth chart for 2022.