NFL

The Patriots’ New Defensive Star is Also the NFL’s Best Bargain

When it comes to bargain shopping, nobody does it better than Bill Belichick. For years, he has squeezed production out of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round draft picks. In many cases, though, finding an elite edge rusher requires a steep financial commitment. However, for the New England Patriots, their next star pass rusher does not make a ton of money. In fact, based on his terrific production this season, Chase Winovich looks like the NFL’s best bargain.

Chase Winovich flashed exciting potential as a rookie

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At the University of Michigan, Chase Winovich actually outproduced Rashan Gary—a former five-star recruit who became the 12th overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft. Yet, despite racking up 18.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss, the Pennsylvania native waited until the third round to hear his name called.

The Patriots scooped up the talented edge defender with the 77th overall pick. Though New England featured a veteran-laden defense headlined by Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins, Winovich earned plenty of playing time as a rookie. A core special-teamer and rotational edge player, the former Wolverine played 29% of the team’s defensive snaps.

While Winovich struggled to set the edge in the run game, he did flash exciting potential as a pass rusher. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder racked up 26 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and four tackles for loss in 16 games.

But after losing Van Noy and Collins and free agency, and with Hightower opting out of the season, that put the pressure on the second-year pro to take his game to another level this year. And so far, Winovich has more than delivered.

The second-year pro has become a breakout star for the Patriots

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After adding strength in the offseason, Chase Winovich has looked like a completely different player in 2020. His improved physicality has allowed him to defeat blockers violently and efficiently. Most importantly, Winovich has showcased the ability to set the edge in the run game—an area he needed to improve upon in order to become an every-down defender.

Through three games, the 2019 third-round pick has racked up 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. In Sunday’s 36-20 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, Winovich’s second-quarter strip-sack of Derek Carr set up a 37-yard drive that ended with a Nick Folk field goal.

ESPN Analytics further illustrates just how impactful the second-year pro has been. Winovich ranks second among edge rushers in run stop win rate. He also ranks sixth in pass rush win rate—ahead of more accomplished defenders such as Myles Garrett and J.J. Watt.

Fortunately for the Patriots and their salary cap, their newest star is also the NFL’s best bargain.

Winovich looks like the NFL’s best bargain

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Other than quarterbacks, pass rushers typically garner the biggest contracts among NFL players. Just take a look at some of the recent deals some of the league’s top defensive linemen signed this summer.

Joey Bosa inked a five-year, $135 million extension with the Los Angeles Chargers in July. That occurred less than two weeks after Myles Garrett signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Cleveland Browns. Plus, fellow edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence, Khalil Mack, and Frank Clark all make more than $20 million annually.

Although those stars earned lucrative deals based on their high level of production, they still command a significant portion of the salary cap.

Meanwhile, Chase Winovich—who has graded out better this season than some of the more established names mentioned—is signed to a much more palatable contract…to put it mildly. After getting drafted by the Patriots, he signed a four-year, $3.8 million deal. This season, Winovich carries a base salary of just $681,000. In the final year of his rookie contract (2022), he will count just $1.1 million against the cap.

Once again, it appears as though Bill Belichick has stolen a valuable contributor at a fraction of the cost. If Winovich continues to play at a high level on a consistent basis, he will eventually cash in.

But for now, the Patriots’ newest star is one heck of a bargain.

All contract information courtesy of Spotrac. All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and Pro Football Reference.