Shea McClellin signed a three-year, $9 million contract last offseason, the biggest contract the Patriots awarded to an external free agent in 2016. He ended the season having played just 37 percent of the defensive snaps and 49 percent of the special teams snaps, logging 16 solo tackles, two fumble recoveries and one sack.
That’s not great production for that much money and in 2017 McClellin is currently slotted to be the 10th highest-paid Patriot. The Pats could save $1.6 million in cap space if they were to cut McClellin. Should they when there’s already a lot of uncertainty with some key front seven players?
I have to admit, I was not a fan of McClellin’s early in the season. While we thought he’d play a sub linebacker role, he started out as more of an edge hybrid where he was ineffective. His athleticism was clear, but he lacked much “pop” to his game and just didn’t really do anything to stand out.
Still, he seemed to be smart and was never glaringly overpowered. He just never overpowered anyone or made any “wow” plays on defense.
When Jamie Collins was traded, McClellin moved to more of an off-the-line role and seemed to take a small step forward. Then came the Collins-esque blocked field goal against the Ravens and I started to wonder if maybe it was starting to click for McClellin.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Patriots brought a player along slowly. Rob Ninkovich‘s ascension was a prime exhibit of a player who didn’t set the world on fire initially but started out solid and kept improving.
Still, Nink’s toughness was clear from the start. McClellin isn’t that player. And he once again tapered off toward the end of the season.
He played just eight defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, and 77 percent of the special teams snaps. Kyle Van Noy, who will make less than half of McClellin in 2017, proved himself to be a more valuable piece in just half a season of work.
So now the question is if McClellin is going to take another step forward on defense. The Patriots already have Hightower, Sheard and Long hitting free agency. Could they afford to cut their only depth player behind that group? I think so, because I remain unconvinced McClellin is the kind of player who plays the way the Patriots want. In fact, now I’m confused what they saw in him to begin with and why they gave him such a significant free agent deal.
McClellin’s salary is way too high for someone who mostly plays special teams and just fills in on defense, but the Pats aren’t short on cap space. Combine that with the uncertainty surrounding the other free agents at his position and McClellin could get another shot to contribute in 2017 simply based on numbers, but it won’t be a surprise if they cut ties either.
Based on play alone, he probably should not return.