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 most experienced special teamers.
Name: Brandon King
Position: Linebacker/Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? King’s path to the NFL was not an easy one: he converted from linebacker to safety, spent time at Highland Community College and Auburn, was not invited to the scouting combine, and did not hear his name called during the 2015 draft. He did eventually find a team, however, when the Patriots decided to sign him to a rookie free agent deal. And even though his career with the club started on its practice squad, King made his way to the active roster early during his first season as a pro.
He never looked back: since arriving on New England’s 53-man squad in October 2015, King appeared in a combined 57 regular season contests and 11 playoff games for the team — helping the Patriots win two Super Bowls while simultaneously serving as a core member of their kicking game units. In this role, he regularly found himself among the team leaders in special teams tackles while appearing on both kick and punt coverage as well as the two return teams. He did not see any action on defense, though.
Despite being listed as a linebacker and bringing experience at safety to the table, King has not even played a single snap outside of special teams during his combined 68 regular and postseason appearances. He is a special teamer, and a good one at that.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the second championship run of his career, King agreed to a sign a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension. The deal did not just ensure that he would be under contract in New England through the 2021 season, it also locked him into the team’s 53-man roster for the 2019 campaign. Unfortunately, however, it came to an end before it even began: during the Patriots’ third preseason contest, King tore his quad and was placed on season-ending injured reserve a short time later.
Up until that point, he had seen regular action during the exhibition schedule. King had played 21 snaps in his usual role on special teams, and also was used on the defensive side of the ball: he played 12 snaps at the star position — aligning mostly off the ball as a linebacker/safety hybrid — and also moved out to cover the slot on eight occasions. All in all, he had registered three defensive tackles by the time of his quad injury, and given up two receptions on two targets for a combined 17 passing yards.
What is his projected role? With King expected to return to full strength and be available once the Patriots are allowed to begin their on-field offseason workouts, the soon-to-be 27-year-old will return in his usual role: he will be a four-unit presence on special teams, and one of the groups leaders alongside veterans Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden. And while being listed as a safety in New England’s media guide, he is once again not projected to see any action on defense outside of the preseason.
What is his special teams value? Despite having missed all of 2019, King is one of the most experienced kicking game players on New England’s roster: he has a total of 1,307 special teams snaps on his combined regular season and playoff résumé, and ranked second on the Patriots in this category between the 2015 and 2018 seasons. King, as noted above, is heavily used on both kickoff and punt coverage and also a member of the two return units. Furthermore, he has seen some occasional but inconsistent action on field goal and extra point block units.
Does he have positional versatility? While he can theoretically be seen as a defender capable of playing both the linebacker and the safety positions, King’s versatility is really just limited to the kicking game. In the game’s third phase, however, he has proven himself a multi-faceted contributor: in 2018, for example, he lined up all over the formation as a force player on kickoff returns, was used in a wedge role on punt returns, and also saw action in numerous protection and front-line spots on punt and kickoff coverage, respectively.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the first year of the contract extension he signed with the Patriots last offseason, King is currently on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $1.28 million — a reasonable number for a player of his experience in the kicking game, and one that ranks in the lower third of the 51 players currently counting against the cap. While New England could theoretically clear $1 million off their books by releasing him, the net savings would be considerably lower with another player taking his spot on the top-51.
What is his roster outlook? King may not be a roster lock in the same sense as recently re-signed Matthew Slater or highly drafted rookies, but a spot on the team seems to be his to lose: he has consistently proven his value in the kicking game over his first four years in the system, and could take on an even bigger role in the aftermath of Nate Ebner’s free agency departure. While nothing is set in stone just yet, and his recovery from season-ending injury could also be a factor, King’s chances of making the 53-man squad look good.