The New England Patriots are well on their way to become the first team in the NFL this year to lock up their entire draft class. A total of 10 players needed to be signed to their rookie contracts, and eight of them were already taken care of by the club over a three-day span last week. On Monday, that number jumped to nine: as first as first reported by ESPN’s Field Yates, New England has agreed to a deal with third-round tight end Dalton Keene.
Keene now joins the other eight players who were already signed by the Patriots last week: After taking care of linebacker Josh Uche on Wednesday and five additional players the following day — linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Cassh Maluia, offensive linemen Justin Herron and Dustin Woodard, and kicker Justin Rohrwasser — the Patriots also agreed to deals with tight end Devin Asiasi and guard Michael Onwenu on Friday.
Keene was originally drafted by the Patriots with the 101st overall selection last month, after the team had traded up to get him. Whereas fellow third-rounder Devin Asiasi is more of an all-around option at the tight end position, Keene is a move/H-back type player whose versatile skillset makes him a chess piece for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to work with. He still has considerable room for growth, but his upside certainly is enticing.
In accordance with the NFL’s rookie wage scale, which was introduced as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, Keene has signed a four-year contract. Per Over The Cap, the deal will be worth a total of $4.5 million with a 2020 salary cap hit of $818,073. As opposed to lower-drafted members of the Patriots’ rookie class, Keene will therefore count against the team’s books even with the top-51 rule being in place during the offseason.
Keene signing his rookie deal means two things for the Patriots:
1.) Their salary cap space decreases by $68,073 (from $708,618 down to $640,545): Keene’s cap number will push Lenzy Pipkins’ — the cornerback signed a one-year deal with a $750,000 cap hit earlier this offseason — from the top-51 list.
2.) Only one draft pick remains unsigned: Keene is now the ninth draft pick to sign a deal with the Patriots this year, leaving second-round safety Kyle Dugger as the only player yet to be accounted for. Given how quickly Keene and company have been signed, however, Dugger should be expected to agree to his own four-year contract rather quickly.