Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s offseason acquisitions.
Name: Marqise Lee
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 28
Size: 5-foot-11, 195 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Following a productive three-year career at USC, Lee was drafted 39th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 and quickly carved out a role as a rotational third/fourth wide receiver. Over the years the followed, he proved himself a productive member of the team’s offense — in his first four seasons as a pro, Lee caught 178 passes for 2,235 yards and eight touchdowns while appearing in a combined 56 games — and a player worth investing in after the conclusion of his rookie contract.
Jacksonville did just that when it signed Lee to a four-year, $38 million contract on the eve of the 2018 free agency period. Since putting his signature under said pact, however, the former second-round draft pick appeared in only six of a possible 32 games and caught just 3 passes for 18 yards: a major knee injury prevented him from taking the field at all in 2018, while a shoulder injury forced the team to eventually shut him down in 2019 as well.
What did his 2019 season look like? After tearing the ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee during the 2018 preseason, Lee had to start preparations for his sixth year in the league on the sideline as well: he spent spring practices not taking part in team workouts and also had to open training camp on the Jaguars’ physically unable to perform (PUP) list. While he did eventually return to practice in mid-August, Lee was held out of the team’s preseason and did not make his comeback until the regular season opener — a game in which he played just 12 snaps and did not show up on the stat sheet.
The week after the game, Lee popped up on the injury report again due to his knee and was eventually ruled out for Jacksonville’s Week 2 bout versus Houston. He returned one week later to appear in the next four contests — playing a combined 78 of 280 possible offensive snaps (27.9%) as a fourth receiver and catching two passes for 10 yards as well as a registering a 1-yard rushing attempt — but eventually was forced to sit out another game after spraining his ankle in Week 6 against the New Orleans Saints.
Lee returned after a one-week absence to play 21 snaps in the Jaguars’ Week 8 win over the New York Jets and register one eight-yard reception, but it was his final in-game action of the season: two days after the game, Jacksonville placed the veteran wide receiver on its injured reserve list due to a shoulder issue, effectively ending his season. Lee did indeed not return and, facing a $8.75 million cap hit in 2020, was eventually released by the club in the week before the draft.
All in all, his 2019 season can therefore be called a disappointment. While Lee did fight his way back from a devastating knee injury and returned to the field after a 12-month absence, he simply failed to provide consistent play and struggled to stay healthy. At some point his potential contributions as a member of the Jaguars’ offense simply did no longer meet his contractual demands, leading the team to pull the plug before entering the third year of the contract extension he signed shortly before tearing his ACL in 2018.
What is his projected role? Lee, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots shortly after his release from the Jaguars, will likely see most of his action with his new team on the perimeter: he has experience playing as both a split end on the line of scrimmage (X-receiver) and a flanker off it (Z-receiver), and has been regularly used in one of the two roles in Jacksonville. In his last healthy season, 2017, he played 736 snaps on the outside (85.5%) compared to 125 (14.5%) inside the formation.
What is his special teams value? While Lee did not appear on special teams over the last two years, he does have some experience in the kicking game. His punt return numbers may not be overwhelming — 16 yards on seven runbacks — he actually did look good as a kickoff returner in 2016: he fielded 18 kicks and returned them an average of 30.3 yards while also scoring a touchdown. Given his recent injury history, however, it is questionable if the Patriots will really give him regular snaps in the return game. Realistically, his value in the game’s third face should be classified as “TBD”.
Does he have positional versatility? Lee projects to primarily serve as an outside receiver in New England, but he has been given some looks both in the slot and the backfield over the course of his career so far. While he has not shown the same level of versatility as other members of the Patriots’ wide receiver group, he could be used in various spots all over the offensive lineup in order to create favorable matchups for himself or other pass catchers.
What is his salary cap situation? Following his release by the Jaguars, Lee signed a one-year pact in New England that qualifies for the minimum-salary benefit. His cap hit ($887,500) is therefore lower than his actual salary ($910,000), a reflection of his roster status despite having combined guarantees of $300,000 embedded into his contract. It can therefore be described as a “prove it”-deal.
What is his roster outlook? Despite his contractual guarantees, Lee is far from a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year. New England also has plenty of bodies competing for the remaining spots alongside projected top-two Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, while the 28-year-old himself has to show that he is both healthy and able to quickly adapt to his new environment despite the circumstances this offseason.