The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots’ offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp starts in late July – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with guard Jonathan Cooper.
Name: Jonathan Cooper
Jersey number: 65w
Size: 6’2, 310 lbs.
2015 review: In his three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Cooper was unable to live up to his status as the seventh overall selection of the 2013 NFL draft. While he was able to showcase his athleticism at times, he was too inconsistent as a blocker in both pass protection and run blocking and struggled with injuries.
His 2015 season was no different. Early in the year, Cooper seemed to have found a role on the Cardinals' offensive line and was able to establish himself as the starting right guard. However, his play was far from what would be expected from that high a draft pick in his third season, as Cooper struggled with consistency and sloppy technique.
While he started the first nine games for Arizona, a knee injury forced him to miss weeks 11 and 12. When Cooper was ready to play again, he had lost his starting spot to former Patriot Ted Larsen. Afterwards, the former first round pick saw only limited playing time on offense and almost all of his snaps on special teams.
Overall, Cooper was active for 16 of the Cardinals' 18 games last year and finished the season with an offensive playing time of 51.8% (637 of 1,231 snaps). After his injury, however, Cooper played only 19 snaps on offense. He also added 84 special teams snaps to his totals.
2016 preview: Cooper (and the Cardinals' 2016 second round pick) left Arizona as part of the Chandler Jones-trade. In New England and on the last year of his rookie contract, the three-year veteran will get another chance to revive his career and show why he is the highest drafted guard of the last 20 years.
While Cooper is not a lock to make the team, his chances look good particularly because of his contract structure: his $675,000 salary and a $1.7 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of training camp are fully guaranteed. Given his athletic upside, arguably the highest of all interior linemen, Cooper getting cut to avoid having to pay this roster bonus would be a surprise.
However, he still needs to perform over the course of training camp and the preseason in order to solidify his standing on the team's offensive line. If he is able to do this and beat out contestants like Shaq Mason, then Cooper might earn one of the two starting guard jobs – most likely on the right side, given that he lined up there during the media portions of OTAs and minicamp.
Still, even if he does not get a starting role, his athletic upside, contract and versatility (he has experience at both guard spots and the Cardinals considered using him at center) should be enough to earn him a spot on the 53-man roster. Could the 26-year old still get cut? Of course. But could he also earn a starting role? Absolutely; it all depends on how he looks the next weeks and how quickly he can adapt to playing in Foxboro and under offensive line coach Dante Scarenecchia.
Even though his past three seasons were marked by injuries and inconsistency, Jonathan Cooper is an intriguing prospect given his potential. If he is finally able to put it all together under the tutelage of coach Scarnecchia, the Patriots might have found a starting-caliber player. The next few weeks will show if they really did.