Training camp is here! The NFL's most quiet period has come to an end as the New England Patriots have started this year's camp earlier this week. The 88 players currently under contract are now in the process of fighting for spots on either the team's 53-man roster or its 10-man practice squad.
As we have done throughout the offseason, we will continue to take a look at the men fighting for those few select spots on the 2017 Patriots – and to find out who will and might be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with one of the Patriots' depth tight ends.
Name: Matt Lengel
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 82
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6'7, 265 lbs.
2016 review: Former undrafted rookie Matt Lengel had an eventful second year in the NFL, going from practice squad player to Super Bowl champion in only three months. The Eastern Kentucky product originally started 2016 with the Cincinnati Bengals, who signed their former free agency pickup to a futures contract in January. Lengel spent his entire training camp with the Bengals but was released during final cut-downs in September.
The very next day, however, the team signed him to its initial practice squad. Lengel spent the first eight weeks of the season on Cincinnati's scout team before New England signed him to its active roster as the number three tight end in early November. In week 11, Lengel saw his first game action for the Patriots when starter Rob Gronkowski was out with a chest injury.
When Gronkowksi was placed on injured reserve prior to week 13, Lengel was elevated to the number two spot on the depth chart behind Martellus Bennett. In this role, he appeared in each one of the Patriots' remaining games and finished the regular season having played 81 of a possible 514 snaps on offense (15.8%) as well as 36 of 204 on special teams (17.6%).
Lengel, who caught two passes throughout the season for 22 yards and a score, then added 36 offensive snaps during the postseason (of 449; 8.0%) and 30 in the kicking game (of 93; 32.3%). While his numbers did not stand out, he provided the Patriots with valuable depth at the tight end position and added quality as a run blocker. In short: He had a pretty good year.
2017 preview: Following New England's victory in Super Bowl LI, the team signed Matt Lengel to an exclusive rights tender sheet – a one-year contract worth $540,000. The deal does not guarantee Lengel a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster but gives him the chance to compete for a backup spot behind locks Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. But despite the experience he collected last year, it will not be easy.
Lengel finds himself in a four-man competition for a what is projected to be only one final tight end spot on the team. Going against offseason acquisition James O'Shaughnessy as well as undrafted rookies Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton, Lengel has to prove that a) he offers the best possible skill set to backup well-rounded tight ends Gronkowski and Allen and b) he can be trusted when put onto the field.
Last season, he was able to do that. If he can repeat this performance and build on it during his first training camp with the team, his chances of staying on New England's pay roll appear to be solid. In short: Even though he faces competition, it would not be a surprise to see the Matt Lengel era continue in one form (on the team) or another (on the practice squad).