The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s offseason acquisitions.
Name: Matt LaCosse
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 83
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6’6, 255 lbs.
2018 review: After joining the Denver Broncos late during the 2017 season off the New York Giants’ practice squad, Matt LaCosse entered his first offseason with the club in a competition for a roster spot on a wide open tight end depth chart. Following a solid preseason outing, the former undrafted free agent was able to carve out a role as a third option at the position and a valuable special teams presence.
LaCosse’s role with the team changed early in the season, however, after rookie Jake Butt tore his ACL. The Illinois product was elevated to the number two spot behind Jeff Heuerman and as such saw significant action on offense: on the year, he appeared in fifteen of Denver’s sixteen games — LaCosse missed the team’s week sixteen game against the Oakland Raiders with a foot injury — and proved himself a solid all-around player.
All in all, he was on the field for 418 of the Broncos’ 1,074 offensive snaps (38.9%) and produced the best statistical season of his three-year career: LaCosse was on the receiving end of 24 passes that went for a combined 250 yards and his first-ever touchdown. Furthermore, he saw regular action as a run blocker and was used as a protector as well from time-to-time. He was serviceable in both areas and therefore a nice complementary piece to Heuerman.
LaCosse’s most intriguing trait may just have been his versatility, though, as Denver opted to use him all over the formation: while he lined up as a traditional in-line tight end most of the time, he also was split out wide or employed in the slot, and also saw time as a lead blocker in the backfield. Furthermore, he played 102 of the Broncos’ 446 snaps in the kicking game (22.9%) and was used on all four return or coverage units.
2018 can therefore be considered a successful individual season for LaCosse. However, the Broncos apparently did not feel the same way about him and his long-term prospects with the team.
2019 preview: LaCosse was scheduled to enter restricted free agency in March 2018, but a tender offer from Denver would have prevented him from hitting the open market. However, such an offer was never made by the team and the 26-year-old was therefore free to pursue other options. Two days into free agency, he found a new home: the Patriots signed him to a two-year contract worth a total of $4.8 million (including $500,000 in guarantees).
While the deal itself does not make LaCosse a roster lock, it would be a minor surprise to not see him on New England’s opening day team this season despite him suffering a sprained ankle during last week’s preseason opener. After all, the Patriots’ tight end depth chart is in a state of turnover this season — gone are Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen — and LaCosse emerged as one of the leading players during offseason workouts and early training camp.
With fellow tight end Benjamin Watson suspended for the first four weeks of the regular season, LaCosse should be expected to be the top option at the position early on during the year. This, of course, depends on the status of his ankle. Even if the injury forces the team to take a slow approach when it comes to their free agency acquisition, however, he will likely receive considerable playing time as a top-two tight end at one point this season.
Of course, LaCosse will not single-handedly replace Gronkowski — no player could do that. Given his versatile skillset and experience, however, the Patriots will find a role for him and put him in the best position to be successful as either the number one or the number two at the tight end position in 2019.