Phil Perry

Anfernee Jennings among several Patriots making case to return in 2024

The resilient linebacker is one of multiple pending free agents in New England.

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ORCHARD PARK, NY -- Anfernee Jennings went through a lengthy pre-game workout ahead of Sunday's matchup with the Bills. He simulated rushing the quarterback. He simulated holding up blocks on the edge. All under the watchful eyes of Patriots coaches and medical personnel.

He was officially questionable to play due to a knee injury that limited him in practice, but after much conversation following the battery of physical tests, Jennings was given the thumbs up. He was good to go.

Jennings proved that was the right call by going out and making five run-stuffs in his team's loss to the Bills. Playing 46 defensive snaps (67 percent), Jennings was a key piece to a front that allowed just 3.6 yards rushing. For the fourth-year player out of Alabama, it was just a continuation of what has been a strong year -- though his latest performance came at less than 100 percent health.

"It bothered me this week," Jennings said. "They kind of tried to make sure they handled it, tried to keep it under control so that I could be ready for the game. Then I did the workout before the game and obviously I was ready to go."

Jennings now leads the team in run stuffs, per Pro Football Focus, with 34. Only linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Ja'Whaun Bentley have more tackles on opposing rushing attempts.

Jennings is one of many Patriots showing real fight during what has been a lost season. He knew that if he was cleared, he was going to play against the Bills. Even with free agency on the horizon, packing it in with a banged-up knee was never part of his plan.

"If I can walk, I can play," Jennings explained. "I mean, my mentally is, every opportunity I get to take the field, if I feel I can go out there and do my job, then I'm going to do it. At the end of the day, I'm a competitor. I just want to play ball. I want to play good football, winning football, and go out there and help my team."

Add Jennings to the list of those pending free agents the Patriots should consider bringing back -- especially considering their work during a trying 2023 season.

Mike Onwenu has to be near the top of the list of free agents to re-sign after he returned from injury, moved from guard to tackle, and continued to provide high-end play at a highly-valuable position.

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Hunter Henry missed last weekend's divisional matchup, but he's played through bumps and bruises throughout the season and has taken pride in his role as captain. Though scheduled to hit free agency, it would make all the sense in the world for him to return.

Add Kyle Dugger to that list as well. He played through illness in Western New York and has now played almost 98 percent of the defensive snaps this year -- most on the team. While his versatile skill set and pound-for-pound power will be coveted on the open market, his Swiss Army knife abilities should make him a candidate to return no matter who is running the defense in 2024.

Josh Uche's snap counts have been down this season -- he played 33 percent of the snaps Sunday -- but his athletic ability will make him an intriguing return candidate for a team short on true edge rushers. Ezekiel Elliott and Mack Wilson have shown what they can bring to the table with strong seasons, too.

Jennings isn't often mentioned when discussing some of the top performers on the Patriots defense. But what he did on Sunday, playing through an ailment with his job status for 2024 still uncertain, shouldn't go unnoticed by the powers that be in the Patriots front office this coming offseason.

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