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Anfernee Jennings Inks New Deal to Remain in New England



New England Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings (33) reacts after a tackle during an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

Anfernee Jennings began the 2023 season as a healthy inactive for the New England Patriots’ first two games. He ended the season as one of the team’s most reliable players. Jennings turned his breakout season into job security. According to reports, the linebacker has agreed to a three-year contract to remain in New England.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport was the first to report the signing. He states the deal is for three years and $12 million, with the potential for Jennings to earn up to $24 million.

Anfernee Jennings

Jennings played all four NFL seasons as a member of the Patriots. New England selected him in the third round (No. 87 overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft.  Jennings won two National Championships with the Alabama Crimson Tide during his college career. His senior year he exploded, with 8.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. This performance earned Jennings a spot on the first-team All-SEC team. His selection by the New England Patriots set a record. It was the tenth time that the team of an NFL coach (Bill Belichick) selected a player from the same college coach (Nick Saban) in the modern NFL Draft era (1967-present). With the Patriots’ selections of Mac Jones and Christian Barmore in 2021, the record has since been extended to 12.

NFL Beginnings

Anfernee Jennings saw time with both the defense and special teams units as a rookie. With veteran Dont’a Hightower opting out of the “COVID season” and Kyle Van Noy having joined the Dolphins in the offseason, there was an opportunity for Jennings to get some snaps immediately. He played in 14 games, starting four. It was not a standout season, but enough to have optimism for his second season in Foxboro.

In 2021 Jennings landed on the Injured Reserve list before the 53-man roster was finalized. His season was over before it ever began. He’d miss the entire year with an undisclosed injury. But instead of sulking, Anfernee Jennings found ways to improve. Jennings credited the older players in the linebacker room for these improvements. Among them were Hightower and Van Noy who had both returned to the Patriots, and current captain Ja’Whaun Bentley.

“We had a lot of veteran guys in the room that kind of took the time to break the game down to me, slow the game down from more of a mental side of it,” he explained. “I had a lot of veteran guys around me, and they kept me motivated and kept me in tune with football. That helped me out a lot.”

But the football side wasn’t the only area where Anfernee Jennings noticed improvements.

“I matured a lot on the field and off. I had a lot of time to myself, a lot of time to just reflect and just evaluate, edit my lifestyle, edit what I was doing on and off the field. Just create my identity.”

The 2022 New England Patriots team Jennings returned to, featured an All-Pro at his position in Matthew Judon. That season also saw the emergence of his fellow 2020 draft class member Josh Uche. Those two combined for 26.0 sacks, While Anfernee Jennings didn’t put up those types of monster numbers, he did improve greatly from his rookie season. He proved he belonged in the NFL.

As a rookie Jennings finished with 20 tackles (10 solo), two pressures, one hurry, no tackles for loss, and no sacks. In 2021, he recorded 28 tackles (15 solo), 11 pressures, six hurries, one tackle for loss and 1.5 sacks. He was not fighting his teammates for a Pro Bowl spot, but the improvement was evident and encouraging.

Breakout 2023 Season

It came as a bit of a surprise that the Patriots chose to have Jennings inactive for each of the first two games. The depth chart above him included Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, and rookie Marte Mapu. Rookie defensive end Keion White also occupied some of the role that Jennings was capable of filling.  Finally, in the third game against the Jets, Uche got his first chance in 2023. He made the most of this opportunity, recording five tackles and a QB hit in the win.

One impressed observer was New England Patriots assistant coach Jerod Mayo, now the team’s head coach. “When you talk about seizing the opportunities when they present themselves, I’d say he did that this week.” The good showing would give Jennings more time on the field.

With injuries severely limiting depth at the edge for the Patriots, Anfernee Jennings was needed. Matthew Judon was a key loss, suffering a season-ending injury in Week 4.

Jennings ended up having a breakout season in his free agency year. He was one of the Patriots most improved players last season. He had played 30 career games before 2023, amassing 47 tackles (25 solo) and one tackle for loss. Last season he was active for the final 15 games and registered 66 tackles (49 solo) and 14 TFL. As noted by Taylor Kyles, Jennings finished tied with the Raiders Maxx Crosby for most run stops among edge defenders (38). He also tied the Chargers’ Khalil Mack for second in tackles for a loss or no gain (15). Both Crosby and Mack made the Pro Bowl. Jennings’ performance earned him the Gino Cappelletti Award as the team’s “unsung hero.”

Anfernee Jennings is now signed with the New England Patriots through the 2026 season.

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