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 backfield.
Name: Brandon Bolden
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 38
Opening day age: 30
Size: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Even though he went unselected in the 2012 NFL draft and the team had just invested two mid-round picks at the running back position the previous offseason, Bolden was able to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster as a rookie — the start of an impressive career for the Ole Miss product: over the course of the eight seasons since, he has appeared in 114 regular season games as well as 16 playoff contests and established himself as one of the league’s better special teamers.
With the exception of a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018, Bolden spent his entire professional career in New England. While he was only irregularly featured in a prominent role at his primary position — Bolden has 303 touches on his Patriots résumé for 1,547 yards and 13 touchdowns — and was even released on two separate occasions, he became a reliable presence on the team’s kicking game units and as such helped the organization win two Super Bowls to cap the 2014 and the 2016 seasons.
What did his 2019 season look like? Following his one year in Miami, Bolden returned to the Patriots via a two-year free agency contract to fill the role he has played throughout his career up until that point: he served as a four-unit special teamer as well as a rotational depth option at the running back position. While this usage again limited his opportunities on the offensive side of the ball, it did allow him to see regular action in the kicking game.
All in all, Bolden appeared in 16 of the Patriots’ 17 games during the 2019 season — he missed the team’s Week 2 game against his old club due to a hamstring injury — and finished ranked second in special teams playing time. Playing on both kickoff and punt coverage, the two return units, and even field goal and extra point block teams, the former undrafted rookie was on the field for 345 of a possible 474 snaps in the kicking game (72.8%). Only team captain Matthew Slater saw more snaps than that (347).
When on the field, Bolden was again a difference maker and key contributor on one of the best kicking game units in the entire NFL. He finished the year with seven tackles and also forced a fumble in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Furthermore, the veteran was credited with a blocked punt in Week 6 — the ball actually ricocheted off the helmet of New York Giants protector Nate Stupar, who was pushed into the punting lane by Bolden — that ended up in the arms of linebacker Chase Winovich and was returned for a touchdown.
As was the case throughout his career, however, Bolden’s impact was not entirely limited to the kicking game: he also played a combined 95 snaps (of 1,210; 7.9%) as a third receiving/change-of-pace running back option behind James White and Rex Burkhead. As such, he carried the football 15 times for a combined 68 and three touchdowns, and also registered nine receptions for 111 yards and one additional score. While his special teams play stands out, Bolden’s offensive contributions cannot be disregarded either.
What is his projected role? While listed as a running back and projected to see occasional action as either a receiving option out of the backfield or a short-yardage/goal-line back, Bolden’s primary role will lie in the kicking game again. He will therefore see regular action on the Patriots’ special teams units — on both coverage, return and block teams — and be a realistic candidate to again rank among New England’s leaders in playing time and tackles.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots have never shied away from giving Bolden regular looks on special teams, and he has generally responded well to a hefty workload. In 2019, for example, his playing time was evenly distributed between punt and kickoff units —he played as a protector and force player, respectively — as well as the two coverage teams. Over the second half of the season, he also received regular action as a rusher on field goal and extra point blocking teams. All in all, Bolden is a jack-of-all-trades in the kicking game.
Does he have positional versatility? Bolden’s positional versatility on special teams is well documented, as he has proven himself a successful player no matter the roles he is asked to play. He also has shown an ability to play from various alignments as a running back, though: while the 30-year-old spent most of his time in the backfield in 2019, he was moved to the slot or the perimeter on occasion as well and actually ended up playing more snaps in passing situations than running plays.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final season of the two-year deal he signed with the Patriots in free agency last spring, Bolden will be on the team’s books with a salary cap number of $1.99 million — including a $500,000 guarantee in the form of his signing bonus proration. Releasing the veteran during roster cutdowns and accounting for another player taking his spot on the team would therefore result in cap savings of just $877,500.
What is his roster outlook? Bolden is facing some competition in a deep New England backfield this year, with second-year man Damien Harris a potential candidate to take over his role as the team’s fourth running back behind Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead. But even if that happens and he is relegated to the RB5 spot, his chances of making the roster appear to be solid: Bolden is still a core special teamer and veteran presence, and playing on a reasonable contract.