With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 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 second-year players.
Name: Hjalte Froholdt
Jersey number: 64
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Froholdt joined the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots last year and does bring some experience into the 2020 season despite having spent most of his rookie campaign on the sidelines: he participated in the team’s entire offseason workout program and training camp, and also saw regular action during New England’s preseason slate. The majority of his football experience, however, stems from his four-year career at the University of Arkansas between 2015 and 2018.
After starting as a defensive tackle — a position he played in high school in Denmark and his first year with the Razorbacks — Froholdt moved over to the other side of the ball in 2016. Despite never having played on the offensive line before, he immediately earned a starting spot at left guard that he held for the rest of his time in Fayetteville. All in all, he went on to start 34 games at the position as well as three more as Arkansas’ center during his senior season. That same year, he was also voted team captain and named second-team All-SEC.
What did his 2019 season look like? When Froholdt heard his name called with the 118th overall selection in the 2019 draft, he joined an offensive line that was deep at the top but offered some potential for him to earn regular practice reps and playing time behind the starters. During the Patriots’ offseason workouts and into training camp, that is exactly what happened: the rookie was used extensively along the interior offensive line and established himself as a serious option to earn a backup role at guard.
The preseason further confirmed his status, as Froholdt saw considerable playing time at both guard positions: he started three of New England’s games on the left side of the line, and a fourth on the right. All in all, he was on the field for 215 of a possible 294 offensive snaps (73.1%) and likely would have seen even more action if not for a shoulder injury that forced him to exit the preseason finale. That injury eventually ended his first NFL season when the Patriots moved Froholdt to injured reserve on roster cutdown day.
Before the team shut him down, he showed some rookie growing pains that had to be expected from the fourth-rounder. Froholdt’s performances grew a bit more inconsistent when going from practice to facing other teams’ defenders, even though he finished preseason with respectable numbers: he surrendered five combined quarterback pressures in four exhibition contests, giving up one sack and four hurries. While he did look solid at times and also had his moments as a run blocker, he had issues with penalties.
In total, Froholdt was flagged four times during the preseason — all of the calls coming because of him holding his opponents. While he would have made the 53-man roster regardless if not for his injury, the youngster would therefore probably not have seen any meaningful snaps nor have been used as the first replacement option at the backup level due to his rawness.
What is his projected role? If his first year in the Patriots’ system is any indication, the team’s plan is to use Froholdt as a versatile backup option along the interior offensive line. He did see most of his action so far at left guard, but likely will also be prepared to fill the spot on the other side and — just like he was in college — the center position as well. Froholdt is therefore projected to play the same essential role previously held by free agency departee Ted Karras.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with most offensive linemen, Froholdt’s kicking game value may be somewhat limited but he still could see regular snaps in the game’s third phase in 2020: last preseason, for example, he played 11 of a possible 99 snaps (11.1%) as a member of the Patriots’ field goal and extra point kicking units. Despite projected to serve as a backup role this season, he therefore still offers special teams experience.
Does he have positional versatility? Beyond the fact that he started his career as a defensive tackle and registered three tackles and a fumble recovery during his freshman year at Arkansas, Froholdt offers some solid versatility: not only has he proven himself capable of playing both guard spots, he also could fill in at center after starting three games at the position during his senior campaign with the Razorbacks.
What is his salary cap situation? Shortly after being selected in last spring’s draft, Froholdt signed a standard four-year contract with the Patriots. As part of this deal, the 23-year-old currently is on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $790,841 that includes a fully guaranteed signing bonus proration of $180,841. The contract does not guarantee him a spot on New England’s roster, but it presents solid value for a player who could be the fourth interior offensive lineman this year behind Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason.
What is his roster outlook? Froholdt is expected to be ready to return to the field when the Patriots open their training camp, and he will immediately find himself in a competition for the top backup spot along the team’s interior offensive line. Going against veterans Jermaine Eluemunor and Najee Toran as well as rookies Michael Onwenu and Dustin Woodard, the second-year man will need to take advantage of his experience in the system and versatility in order to carve out a role on New England’s 53-man squad.