Hoping to fortify their interior defensive line alongside perennial Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork, the New England Patriots have agreed to terms on a two-year deal with former Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, NFL.com reported.
Kelly, a nine-year veteran, was waived by the Raiders in late-March in a cost-cutting move. The former Mississippi State lineman was set to carry a cap hit of $6.5 million for the 2013 season before his release. After recording 14.5 sacks from 2010 to 2011, Kelly's sack total dipped to 1.0 last season.
Prior to the subpar year in 2012, Kelly had a pair of stellar seasons in Oakland. Two seasons ago, Kelly (6-6, 325) ranked fourth among starting defensive tackles in run defense efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. In 2010, Kelly tied for second among all tackles in quarterback hurries with 30. Kelly, who was used at defensive end early in his career, is a versatile lineman that can be utilized in several different positions along a front four. Before a 2005 meeting with the Raiders, Bill Belichick compared Kelly favorably with Howie Long.
"Tommy Kelly is one of the best defensive linemen in the league,” Belichick said at the time. “Kelly plays everywhere. He's a little bit like Howie Long in that Howie was a guy 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's a little bit of that with Tommy, too.”
Months later, Kelly set a Raiders' single-game record with three sacks in a Week 9 loss to the Chiefs. All three sacks came when Kelly lined up at defensive tackle. During the 2006 offseason, former Raiders defensive lineman Ed Jasper said Kelly would become an absolute monster once he realized his potential. Despite recording only 5.5 sacks over the next two seasons, Kelly received a seven-year, $50.5 million contract from the Raiders in 2008.
Kelly could face Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb at least twice in 2013. Last August, Kelly made headlines when he questioned Kolb's toughness in a preseason game by declaring, “that boy's scared,” on the sidelines between defensive series. In limited action, Kolb finished with as many completions (three) as times sacked. Days later, Kolb retorted, by saying there's a fine line between holding the ball when the pocket collapses and trying to escape to make a play.
“Tommy Kelly is too clueless to know the difference,” Kolb said. “I don't mind people criticizing my play. Don't ever question my toughness.”
Belichick may impress upon Kelly the need to avoid penalties. Last season, Kelly tied for a Raiders' team-high in penalties with 10.
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