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 a member of New England’s safety group.
Name: Terrence Brooks
Jersey number: 25
Opening day age: 28
Size: 5-foot-11, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Brooks arrived in the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014: the team invested the 79th overall selection in the Florida State product, and he went on to start his tenure with the club as a depth option free safety and regular special teamer. Brooks appeared in 23 games in this role over his first two seasons in the league— ending his rookie year on injured reserve due to a knee injury — before Baltimore opted to release him during 2016’s roster cutdowns.
Brooks never hit the open market following his release, though, as the Philadelphia Eagles claimed him off the waiver wire. He went on to appear in 11 games for the team, with almost all of his playing time coming in the kicking game as a four-coverage player. The following summer, however, he had to change teams again when the Eagles traded him to the New York Jets in return for cornerback Dexter McDougle. The move did prove to be a good one for Brooks, as he carved out a role as a core special teams presence in New York.
He went on to appear in 31 of a possible 32 games over the following two seasons, and also led the Jets in kicking game snaps in 2018. Furthermore, he recovered one fumble and registered two interceptions as a rotational safety (both in 2017). Despite his success, however, the team decided not to exercise the option clause in his contract heading into 2019 — making him an unrestricted free agent for the first in his career.
What did his 2019 season look like? On the second day of his stint on the open market, the Patriots and Brooks agreed to join forces on a two-year contract worth $3.25 million. The deal did not guarantee the veteran special teamer a spot on the roster, but he was still able to carve out a role on New England’s 53-man squad — not primarily due to his contributions in the kicking game, however, but rather for his work as a fourth safety alongside Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon.
As such, Brooks appeared in 15 of the Patriots’ regular season games — missing Week 17 because of a groin injury — as well as the team’s lone playoff contest, and was on the field for 280 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (26.2%). While he was used primarily as a free safety during his first five years in the league, New England opted employ him as the number two box option behind Chung: 58.8% of his defensive action (161 snaps) came aligned as a strong safety, only 13.9% (38 snap) playing deep.
In this role, Brooks allowed 11 of 21 passes thrown his way to be completed for a combined 122 yards as well as one touchdown and one interception. While said touchdown did come in a prominent setting — the Patriots’ wild card loss against the Tennessee Titans, on his first snap subbing in for an injured Patrick Chung — the veteran was generally serviceable during his first season in New England’s system and with increased defensive responsibilities.
Along the way, Brooks also saw regular action in the kicking game: he was on the field for 178 of a possible 474 kicking game snaps in 2019 (37.6%). Serving as a four-unit coverage player that was used primarily on kickoffs, he registered two tackles. Compared to years past and with the Patriots using him more prominently on the defensive side of the ball, however, his production in the game’s third phase was comparatively limited.
What is his projected role? Considering that both starting safeties, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, will be back, Brooks is projected to again play a depth role on defense. Compared to the 2019 season, however, his usage could look a bit different: with number two deep safety Duron Harmon no longer around, Brooks could be an option to fill this vacancy in 2020 — all while again seeing regular, and maybe even increased action in the kicking game.
What is his special teams value? Even though he was no core special teamer for the Patriots in 2019, Brooks offers value as a player capable of performing at a high level on all four coverage teams: New England did use him in this capacity (albeit on a somewhat limited snap count), as did the Ravens, Eagles and Jets. While it remains to be seen how the Patriots approach him this season, he does bring tremendous experience in the kicking game to the table.
Does he have positional versatility? Brooks began his career in the NFL as more of a strong safety, but was moved closer to the box in his first year in New England — all while also seeing action in cornerback alignments and occasionally as a deep man as well. Given this background, especially in combination with his special teams prowess, he can be considered as one of the more versatile defensive backs on the Patriots’ current roster.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final season of the two-year pact he signed last March, Brooks will hit New England’s salary cap hit with $1.99 million — including some considerable guarantees that will remain on the cap even in case of a release before the start of the regular season: not only does he carry a $250,000 signing bonus proration, but also a $200,000 roster bonus that was picked up on March 1.
What is his roster outlook? Despite Duron Harmon’s departure and his rather prominent role on the New England defense in 2019, Brooks is not guaranteed a roster spot in 2020: the Patriots invested considerable resources at the safety position during the offseason — they signed Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis in free agency, and also picked Kyle Dugger in the second round of the draft — and will return both McCourty and Chung. With the two veterans as well as Phillips and Dugger as locks to make the team, Brooks will need to earn his spot during training camp and preseason.