Pats' Sheard out vs. 49ers for performance reasons

Questions surrounding New England's front seven continue to swirl.

Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard did not travel with the team to San Francisco and will not play Sunday against the 49ers because of a performance-based decision, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday.

Speculation that Sheard would not play on Sunday bubbled Friday night when he posted on his Instagram page that he was attending a Celtics game in Boston after the team flight had taken off. Saturday's news confirms those rumblings.

Sheard's absence is the latest in a number of interesting decisions made by Bill Belichick regarding the Patriots defensive line and linebacking corps. New England shipped promising-but-expensive pass rusher Chandler Jones to Arizona in the offseason. Then, midway through the season, the Patriots jettisoned freelancing linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland. The results of the front seven shakeup have been mixed as New England's poor pass rush was mostly to blame in its Week 10 home loss to Seattle.

Sheard is second on the team in sacks (3.5) and has started in eight of New England's nine games, but the sixth-year end has only recorded two tackles since Week 6. Sheard, who will be a free agent this spring, is still listed as the starting defensive end on the team's unofficial depth chart, but Trey Flowers will likely step into his position on Sunday; Flowers has recorded four sacks over the past two weeks and leads the team in that metric.

Bill Belichick's late-autumn roster tinkering never ceases to intrigue.

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