James O’Shaughnessy will return to Foxborough on Sunday. This time, the tight end will be wearing No. 80 instead of No. 88. He’ll have a two-toned, matte black and gold helmet on, too.
It won’t be much of a reunion. O’Shaughnessy’s previous stay there lasted only 126 days. But the fact the 26-year-old will be back for a 3 p.m. ET kickoff is a reminder of how roundabout NFL transactions can be.
His name’s been in a trio since April.
The Kansas City Chiefs traded O’Shaughnessy to the New England Patriots on the final day of the 2017 draft. He was packaged along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fifth-rounder, which became Georgia Southern linebacker Ukeme Eligwe for the Chiefs and – in wake of a trade-down and trade-up – UCLA offensive tackle Conor McDermott for the Patriots.
“Just when you go through your draft process, your evaluation process, you never really know when a player may or may not come up,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of acquiring O’Shaughnessy in his post-draft press conference, via Patriots.com. “He was a player we had done quite a bit of work on as well. Worked him out, spent some time with him, so he was available. We thought it was an opportunity to add another player to our team, so we made that kind of fifth to sixth.”
That fifth, Eligwe, proceeded to appear in 14 games as rookie in Kansas City. And that sixth, McDermott, appeared in three games for the Buffalo Bills after being claimed off waivers on Sept. 3.
Which also happened to be the day O’Shaughnessy became a Jacksonville Jaguar.
After checking into three preseason contests to collect seven receptions for 79 yards, New England cut ties with the 2015 fifth-round selection out of Illinois State. From there, O’Shaughnessy ventured to the team he didn’t face in August’s exhibition slate due to injury. And the Patriots ventured forth with Rob Gronkowski being backed up by Wyoming product Jacob Hollister and former Indianapolis Colt Dwayne Allen.
It panned out for both parties in the end. At least well enough to get to the AFC Championship Game.
O’Shaughnessy saw action in every regular-season matchup for Jacksonville after arriving as one of five waiver claims at the 53-man deadline. Alongside Ben Koyack and Marcedes Lewis, he snared a career-high 14 passes for 149 yards and the first touchdown of his NFL tenure. He even caught a 29-yarder from punter Brad Nortman.
O’Shaughnessy – who entered the campaign with as many NFL receptions as he did tackles – finished having accrued 236 snaps on offense and 318 on special teams.
At one time, it was believed that’d be what he would handle in New England. With his background in the kicking game compacted by an athletic, 6-foot-4, 245-pound off-line mold, the projection made sense.
If there was room.
“Every preseason game, especially with the time I missed, is important,” O’Shaughnessy told reporters in the locker room following New England’s Aug. 31 preseason loss the New York Giants. “Every rep matters, every play matters. I like the strides I made, but obviously there are things I need to improve on. Overall, I’m very happy I got a chance to play this preseason with the Patriots. I learned a lot.”
It was soon learned that three tight ends would be the magic number for New England.
Hollister’s contested preseason catches gave way to a slice of the role O’Shaughnessy might have taken. He reeled in four passes for 42 yards through one start and 15 games – the most ever for a undrafted rookie Patriots tight end – while cutting his teeth on special teams. As for Allen, the onetime Mackey Award winner made his primary contributions as a blocker, underwhelming numbers-wise by reeling in 10 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown through eight starts and all 16 games.
That’s 14 catches combined for Hollister and Allen, and 14 for one of the tight ends they outlasted. But circumstances differ. Production isn’t always apples-to-apples. Gronkowski rightfully accounted for 85 percent of the position’s receiving yards and eight out of nine touchdowns in a first-team All-Pro season. There’s no way of knowing what O’Shaughnessy would have accounted for in the company of that.
There’s no way of knowing a two-week Martellus Bennett cameo or a Will Tye practice-squad signing would be in the cards, either.
But that’s the way it went.
And the way things stand now, O’Shaughnessy will be the lone ex-Patriot on the Jaguars’ active roster Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Defensive tackle Darius Kilgo and linebacker Brooks Ellis reside on Jacksonville’s practice squad, while another familiar face in running back Tyler Gaffney sits on injured reserve.