One of the more unheralded signings of the offseason is Tommy Kelly signing with the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick needed a defensive tackle in the worst way, particularly one who could rush the passer. He got one in Kelly, who also boasts the size (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) to play defensive end when Belichick switches to the 3-4 defense. Not only that, but Kelly is a veteran with a lot to prove after a not-so-good 2012 season for the Oakland Raiders.
It seemed like Kelly quit on the Raiders last season, recording just one sack while committing several dumb personal foul penalties. He was also not interested in defending the run, which is not something new for him. So it was no surprise that Kelly was cut in a move that nearly saved $5 million for Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. Kelly simply did not produce in the pass rushing department, which was his bread and butter. Once that production was gone, McKenzie decided that Kelly was not worth the headache.
Kelly’s 2010 and 2011 seasons were completely different from last season. In 2010, he recorded seven sacks. Then, in 2011, Kelly put forth 7.5 sacks. During this time, Kelly was known as one of the most underrated pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL. His ability to collapse the pocket was what made Kelly a hot commodity back then.
That ability could very well be gone after what fans saw Kelly produce in 2012, but it was a worthy gamble for Belichick to take a chance on a player who is just two years removed from being one of the top players at his position. It is not even an expensive gamble, as Kelly signed a two-year contract worth a maximum of $5 million. The only guaranteed portion of that contract was the $1 million that Kelly received as a signing bonus.
If this low-risk, high-reward gamble pays off, Kelly could be what Belichick wanted out of Albert Haynesworth back in 2011 – a big defensive tackle who can rush the passer. And if that is what Kelly turns out to be, it will fill a need that Belichick has been trying to fill ever since he traded Richard Seymour in 2009.