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How does Tommy Kelly fit with Patriots?

04.08.13 at 4:30 pm ET
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It’s always hard to gauge where a player is when he leaves the Raiders.

Sometimes, it’s clear the player has nothing left, and there was a reason why the Raiders let him go. (In the case of the Patriots, players like Andrew Walter and Doug Gabriel come to mind.) Other times, it’s clear he was just a bad fit in Oakland, a team where many veterans have said there can be little incentive and even less accountability — Randy Moss was rejuvenated by a 2007 trade that shipped him from the Raiders to New England.

Such is the dilemma when trying to assess Tommy Kelly and how he might fit into the Patriots system. The 32-year-old defensive tackle, who agreed to a two-year deal with New England on Monday afternoon, has statistically been a mixed bag over his nine-year career. He’s certainly been durable — he hasn’t missed a start over the last five season, and had a combined 14.5 sacks in 2011 and 2010. And Ian Rapoport, who broke the news of the agreement, had two Oakland sources saying Kelly might be a good find for the Patriots.

But at the same time, as Evan Silva of Rotoworld pointed out here shortly after the agreement was announced, Kelly appeared to slip in 2012.

For what it’s worth. he certainly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test. (Bill Belichick praised Colvin up and down prior to a 2002 game — that offseason, the Patriots went out and spent big to acquire the free agent pass rusher.) In 2005, prior to the regular-season opener between New England and Oakland, Belichick was gushing in his praise of Kelly.

“Tommy Kelly is one of the best defensive linemen in the league. He’s an outstanding player,” Belichick said. “Kelly plays everywhere. He’s a little bit like Howie Long in that Howie Long was a guy that they would move along on the front. They would take Howie and mismatch him against whoever they thought the other team’s worst lineman was.

“There is a little bit of that with Tommy Kelly too, find a guy that they want to go after and stick him there because he does have the flexibility to play outside and inside. He can pretty much play across the board. He can do everything. Play the run, rush the passer, he’s good in pursuit. He’s a very physical player. He’s pretty good.”

The Patriots will add Kelly to a defensive front that is anchored by Vince Wilfork, who has shown the ability to line up at defensive tackle and end in either a three-man or four-man front. If he does indeed have something left in the tank, expect Kelly to be a part of a rotation that includes Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor, if Pryor can ever stay on the field. (In addition, newcomers Armond Armstead and Jason Vega could also be a part of the mix.)

One comparison that might work in the case of Kelly is Gerard Warren, an over-30 veteran who was acquired by the Patriots after he spent three seasons in Oakland. There are different players, but after he arrived in New England, Warren’s snaps were monitored — he routinely played 1/4 to 1/2 of the defensive snaps each week — and he worked as part of a rotation. As a result, he was able to become a key part of the New England defensive front in 2010 and 2011. If the Patriots can get the same thing out of Kelly for the next two seasons, they’ll be relatively happy with the results.

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