The NFL’s final four is set. And for the eighth consecutive year, the New England Patriots have earned a quarter slice.
But several players from New England’s past can be found among the other slices ahead of next Sunday’s NFC and AFC title games.
Between the active rosters, practice squads and reserve lists of the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, a total of eight former Patriots are with teams still in contention for Super Bowl LIII.
Who’s where? Here’s a glance as the 3:05 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. ET kickoffs inch closer.
Austin Carr, wide receiver – A member of the Patriots’ 2017 undrafted class, Carr caught 14 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns during his rookie preseason. The Northwestern grad would be claimed off waivers on Labor Day weekend, however. Carr played in one game during his first regular season with the Saints and was among those to return to the field for the extra point in the last-second playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. In 2018, Carr had nine receptions 97 yards and two scores over 14 games.
Benjamin Watson, tight end – This playoff run will be the last made by the 2004 Patriots first-round pick. Now 38 and finishing the last of his 15 NFL seasons, Watson has amassed 530 catches for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns – and a Champ Bailey chase-down along the way. “Ben’s been a great friend for a long time and had an incredible career,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said in December. “He’ll certainly be missed. He had a great impact on this team and every team he played for because of the person he is.”
Michael Hoomanawanui, tight end – Hoomanawanui, on injured reserve since September due to a neck injury, was originally acquired by the Saints in exchange for defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in the fall of 2015. “Had a lot of position versatility, smart guy,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the tight end at the time. “We won a lot of games with him.” Hoomanawanui checked in for 45 games with New England, making 28 starts along with 20 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown.
Brandin Cooks, wide receiver – Cooks has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in four consecutive seasons. The 25-year-old has done so with three different teams. New England acquired Cooks from New Orleans for Nos. 32 and 103 overall ahead of the 2017 draft. Less than 13 months later, Los Angeles acquired the wideout in exchange No. 23 overall and a swap of fourth- and sixth-rounders. Cooks’ $8.459 million option turned into an extension worth an additional $80 million through 2023 soon after.
Dominique Easley, outside linebacker – The Rams placed Easley on injured reserve following knee surgery in October, marking the converted defensive tackle’s fourth stint on IR since entering the league as New England’s first-round pick in 2014. Easley recorded 25 tackles, three sacks and an interception in 22 games with the Patriots. The 26-year-old has since entered into 19 games with the Rams, logging 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Easley started each of his three contests this season.
Aqib Talib, cornerback – Those who tuned in for Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s postgame interview on Fox last Saturday were met by a Talib cameo appearance. The Patriots got one at the 2012 trade deadline, too, acquiring Talib and a seventh-round draft choice from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a fourth-rounder. Talib started 18 games over parts of two regular seasons with New England, tallying 60 tackles, 16 pass breakups, five interceptions, one forced fumble and one TD.
Troy Hill, cornerback – The Patriots claimed Hill off waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals the day after Christmas in 2015. The undrafted corner by way Oregon sat among the inactives for his lone week on New England’s roster, and was claimed by the Rams by New Year’s Eve. Through the move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, Hill has remained to play in 40 games for the Rams. The 27-year-old has accrued 98 tackles, 11 passes defensed and two interceptions. He started a career-high seven games in 2018.
Jordan Devey, guard – The lone ex-Patriot in the Chiefs’ fold ahead of the meeting at Arrowhead Stadium, Devey was placed on injured reserve in October after suffering a pectoral injury. The product of Snow College and Memphis was traded from New England to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for tight end Asante Cleveland during training camp in 2015. Devey, who earned Super Bowl XLIX ring while with the Patriots, has appeared in 17 games over the past three seasons in Kansas City, starting four.