With opening day still more than two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with one of the team’s backup linebackers.
Name: Jonathan Freeny
Jersey number: 55
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6’2, 255 lbs.
2016 review: Before the start of the 2016 season, the Patriots signed Jonathan Freeny to a two-year, $4.1 million contract extension to keep him with the team through the 2018 season. However, his first season after signing the extension proved to be a difficult one for the former undrafted rookie – in terms of role and playing time as well as in terms of health.
Freeny appeared in just five games in 2016 before New England placed him on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Prior to suffering the injury, Freeny saw uneven playing time on defense and special teams as an inside linebacker next to Dont’a Hightower and as an interior blocker on the punt protection and punt return teams, respectively.
Overall, he was on the field for 28.8% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps (97 of 337) through weeks one to five. However, the rise of rookie Elandon Roberts directly impacted his playing time and in turn impact on the field. In his five games, Freeny registered a combined 10 tackles and allowed four pass completions on five targets for 22 yards, while also forcing a fumble.
And while Freeny was a serviceable rotational piece for New England’s defense as well as a seasoned presence in the kicking game, the team was able to replace him: Adding Kyle Van Noy as well as Roberts’ continued rise helped defensively while the promotion of Geneo Grissom and McClellin expanding his role from the practice squad did the same on special teams.
2017 preview: Entering the 2016 season, Jonathan Freeny has two battles to fight: One back from the shoulder injury that cost him most of the 2016 season and one for his spot on New England’s roster. After all, the Patriots’ 2017 linebacker depth is superior to the 2016 version with Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin all locks or near-locks to make the team.
Consequently, Freeny will likely need a terrific training camp to a) beat out Roberts, Van Noy or McClellin or b) earn the sixth linebacker spot in case New England opts to go six-deep at the position. The odds of either happening appear not to favor Freeny. After all, Roberts and Van Noy both offer more value on defense while McClellin has proven himself a capable and highly athletic special teamer. Furthermore, he faces tough, high-upside competition from undrafted rookie Harvey Langi for a potential sixth spot.
But even if Freeny’s prospects do not look overly good, his tenure in New England might not yet come to an end: Given that he is recovering from shoulder surgery, he might be a candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform list and potentially return during the season. If the PUP list is not an option, though, it would not be a surprise to see Freeny’s tenure in New England come to an end.