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 specialists.
Name: Joe Cardona
Position: Long snapper
Jersey number: 49
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-2, 245 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Following a four-year career at the Naval Academy, Cardona heard his name called in the fifth round of the 2015 draft when the Patriots invested the 166th overall selection in him — the second highest draft choice ever spent on a pure long snapper. The investment was a good one from New England’s perspective: ever since joining the club, Cardona served as its undisputed long snapper and proved himself a reliable presence among the team’s specialists.
Despite having to serve double-duty as a member of both the Patriots and the Navy reserve, Cardona did not miss a single game over his five years in the NFL. All in all, he has appeared in 80 regular season contests as well as 12 playoff games since arriving in New England and has helped the team win two Super Bowls. Along the way, Cardona snapped the football a combined 886 times on field goals and extra point attempts as well as on punt plays. During the 2018 offseason, he signed a four-year, $4.31 million contract extension.
What did his 2019 season look like? After being promoted to Lieutenant by the Navy earlier during the 2019 offseason, Cardona returned to his usual role among the Patriots’ specialists once the season began. He appeared in all 16 of the team’s regular season games as well as its lone playoff contests and finished with playing time percentages of 35.8% (160 of 447) and 29.6% (8 of 27), respectively. The former fifth-round draft pick lined up at the center position to snap the football on each of his snaps.
Like he had been during the first four years of his career in the NFL, Cardona was a rather accurate long snapper and proved himself a steady presence on a special teams unit that saw considerable personnel turnover. Not only did rookie Jake Bailey take over punting and holding duties from veteran Ryan Allen by beating him out in training camp, the place kicker operation also was in flux ever since Stephen Gostkowski suffered a season-ending injury in September. All in all, four players lined up to kick field goals or extra point.
Nevertheless, Cardona did a generally good job and usually gave the operation enough time for the (right-footed) punter/holder and kicker — whether it was Gostkowski or his replacements Mike Nugent, Kai Forbath or Nick Folk — to go through their motions. The two blocked field goal attempts New England suffered throughout the season, for example, were not due to any inaccurate snaps but rather some inconsistent blocking elsewhere along the line of scrimmage.
Cardona snapped the football a combined 168 times during the regular season and playoffs. 150 of those 168 snaps (89.3%) were classified as accurate with the receiver — the aforementioned Jake Bailey — not having to adjust in any meaningful way. 17 of them (10.1%) were somewhat inaccurate but did not result in any damage on the play, while only one snap was categorized as bad (0.6%): in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, one of Cardona’s field goal snaps came in low to mess up the timing on a missed kick.
Despite that one miss, however, Cardona had a generally good fifth season in the NFL.
What is his projected role? Even though he had to undergo shoulder surgery during the offseason, the procedure is not expected to impact Cardona’s preparation for the 2020 season in any meaningful way. Accordingly, he will be back in the lineup as the Patriots’ long snapper — filling a role he held ever since his arrival in New England five years earlier. Due to his experience, he enters the season as the elder statesmen among the team’s specialists.
What is his special teams value? Cardona’s special teams value lies in his role as a long snapper on three of the Patriots’ kicking teams: he serves on the punt coverage unit in a dual role as snapper and defender — Cardona has 13 tackles on his career résumé so far — and also is a vital part of New England’s field goal and extra point operations. Add it all up and you get a player who is on the field for around one third of special teams snaps any given week.
Does he have positional versatility? No matter if preseason, regular season or playoffs, the Patriots have used Cardona in only one role since they drafted him: long snapper. While other players at the position have some experience working along the offensive line as well (or elsewhere, like former linebacker Rob Ninkovich), New England has never considered the 28-year-old in such a role and will therefore continue to employ him exclusively on special teams.
What is his salary cap situation? As part of the four-year contract extension he signed with the Patriots in 2018, Cardona in on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $1.08 million this year — ninth highest in the NFL at the position and therefore good value for a player of his experience and proven quality. While the guarantees in his deal are limited to his signing bonus proration, New England will not move on from its long-time long snapper.
What is his roster outlook? Given his contract, in combination with his previous success and experience — let alone the lack of any competition — Cardona is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this year. The main question entering the 2020 season is how he will fare with yet another kicker lining up behind him: New England drafted Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round this year to replace the released Stephen Gostkowski, and he has yet to develop an on-field rapport with his fellow specialists Cardona and Bailey.