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 the Patriots’ undrafted rookie additions.
Name: Brian Lewerke
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Lewerke’s NFL career is still in its infancy after he signed his undrafted rookie contract with the Patriots just a few days ago, but he still enters the pro level with considerable experience as a starting quarterback: the 23-year-old started 38 of the 41 games he appeared in during his four non-redshirt years at Michigan State, and ended his college career as the school’s all-time leader in total offense with a combined 9,548 yards — 8,293 passing plus a 1,255 rushing — as well as a two-time team captain.
What did his 2019 season look like? After missing two games during his 2018 redshirt junior campaign due to a right shoulder injury, Lewerke was back at full strength for his final year with the Spartans. Starting all 13 of the school’s games, he produced arguably his finest statistical season to date: Lewerke completed 260 of 436 passing attempts (59.6%) for a combined 3,079 yards as well as 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Both his passing yards and completion rate were new career-marks (unfortunately, so were his interceptions as well).
Just like he had throughout his entire college career, Lewerke also once again proved his value as a ball carrier: he found the end zone three times and gained a total of 363 yards on the ground — setting a new Michigan State record for total offense in a single season along the way. Furthermore, he was named the most valuable player of his team’s 27-21 win in the Pinstripe Bowl and voted a team captain for the second year in a row.
What is his projected role? With second-year passer Jarrett Stidham expected to become the Patriots’ new starting quarterback, Lewerke will likely only compete for one of the backup roles behind him. Unless injury strikes, the undrafted rookie is therefore not expected to see any notable playing time in his first year as a member of New England’s offense. That said, he will likely be used quite a bit over the course of the preseason and — if he makes either the 53-man roster or the practice squad — as a scout team QB as well.
What is his special teams value? Like the other three quarterbacks on New England’s current roster, Lewerke will not have any impact on the kicking game operation. While he could be used as a backup holder on field goal and extra point attempts — a role previously held by Tom Brady — his roster status will be a deciding factor: if he cannot be counted on to be on the game day roster on a week-to-week basis, he likely will not be trusted in that or any other special teams capacity.
Does he have positional versatility? Lewerke possesses a strong arm and has shown some good mobility as a dual-threat passer, but his versatility is still limited due to his position. That said, the Patriots could opt to use him to prepare their defense for the mobile passers on their 2020 schedule and the RPO concepts regularly used by teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
What is his salary cap situation? Lewerke signed a standard three-year free agency contract with the Patriots after going undrafted. With no signing bonus reported just yet, the rookie is listed on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $610,000 — a number that would not place his deal among the 51 most valuable on New England’s roster at the moment, meaning that he is currently not counting against the team’s cap.
What is his roster outlook? New England has four quarterback on its roster at the moment: Lewerke, the aforementioned Jarrett Stidham, veteran Brian Hoyer, and fellow undrafted rookie J’Mar Smith. With Stidham a virtual lock to make the team and Hoyer also a solid bet to be on the roster come the regular season, Lewerke and Smith are expected to fight for the QB3 spot either on the roster or the practice squad. His natural arm talent and athletic skillset should help him, but if he cannot improve his anticipation and processing skills he will have a hard time winning that job.