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 linebacker Jonathan Freeny.
Name: Jonathan Freeny
Jersey number: 55
Size: 6’2, 255 lbs.
2015 review: After the Miami Dolphins did not offer Freeny a tender sheet following the 2014 season, the restricted free agent became an unrestricted one. He subsequently signed a one-year, $1.0 million contract with the Patriots in March and later received a one-year extension in September.
Overall, Freeny appeared in 15 of the Patriots’ 18 games last year. The Rutgers product, who shared snaps with Jerod Mayo as the team’s number three linebacker, finished the season with 445 of 1249 defensive snaps played (35.6%) and was one of only six players to play more than half of New England’s special teams snaps.
Freeny finished the season with 50 tackles, one sack and two quarterback pressures. He also added two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. But while he was serviceable in the kicking game, he was inconsistent on defense – against the run, but most evidently against the pass: the linebacker was targeted 21 times and allowed 19 of those passes to be completed for 163 yards.
2016 preview: Despite playing the third most snaps of the Patriots’ linebackers in 2015, and despite getting a one-year contract extension in late-September, Freeny is no lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster – especially if he is unable to become a more consistent defender.
To earn a spot on the team, the 27-year old needs to have a solid training camp, work on his shortcomings on defense, and improve his decision making, aggressiveness and general awareness. If he can do that, his chances of making the team as a core special teamer and backup linebacker look solid. If not, however, younger and cheaper options Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts or veteran special teamer Ramon Humber might take over Freeny’s former role.
Given that he is not eligible for the practice squad, there are only two scenarios: either Freeny makes the team or his tenure in Foxboro ends after only one season. Neither would be a huge surprise.
While Jonathan Freeny played the third-most snaps of New England’s linebackers in 2015, he was not the team’s third-best option behind Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. This honor belongs to Jerod Mayo, who retired earlier this offseason after finishing yet another year on injured reserve.
Entering 2016, and with added competition from rookies and veterans – either Shea McClellin or versatile Rob Ninkovich –, Freeny needs to show that he is able to become the third-best option for the team. Otherwise, he likely won’t have a future in Foxboro.