With less than a weeks to go until their entire roster is scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 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 did the last three years as well — 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 defense.
Name: Shilique Calhoun
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 90
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-4, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? A three-time second-team All-American during his time at Michigan State, Calhoun arrived in the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the then-Oakland Raiders in 2016. His professional career was off to a rocky start: while he served a prominent role on special teams, Calhoun was used only as a depth option on the defensive side of the ball during his first 10 games. To make matters worse, the Raiders were forced to send him to season-ending injured reserve after he hurt his knee in late November.
The next two years did not go much better. Sharing time between the active roster, practice squad and injured reserve, Calhoun appeared in only 16 combined games over the course of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He also continued to be employed only as a rotational piece on defense and saw most of his action in the kicking game. While Oakland did decide to keep the exclusive rights free agent for the 2018 season, he was not brought back in 2019 — paving the way for him to join New England on a one-year pact.
What did his 2019 season look like? Calhoun became an unrestricted free agent in 209 coming off a season-ending neck injury suffered in just three months earlier. Initially, he therefore failed to generate much momentum on the open market. In fact, it took until early May for him to find a new home when the Patriots signed him to a modest one-year, $720,000 contract that did not include any guarantees. Calhoun certainly benefitted from the change of scenery, however, and delivered the best season of his career so far.
While still not able to carve out an impact role as an outside linebacker and again used more prominently on special teams, the fourth-year man did appear in 15 of New England’s regular season games — he missed the team’s Week 3 contest against the New York Jets for non-injury-related reasons — and also saw action during its wild card playoff loss. Along the way, Calhoun was on the field for 268 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (25%) as well as 238 more in the kicking game (of 474; 50.2%).
Calhoun’s defensive performance may not have been overly impressive yet again, but it did present a step in the right direction coming off a disappointing stint with the Raiders. Serving as the Patriots’ fourth outside linebacker behind Kyle Van Noy, John Simon and Chase Winovich, he registered 11 quarterback disruptions — four hits, seven hurries — as well as six tackles in the running game and one forced fumble. He also was penalized on four different occasions, however, including a costly neutral zone infraction against the Baltimore Ravens.
All in all, Calhoun’s 2019 season can therefore best be described as rather uneventful but still arguably his best to date.
What is his projected role? During his first year in the Patriots’ system, Calhoun was primarily used as a rotational edge defender aligning on both sides of the formation, and in a dual role as an outside linebacker and defensive end. While his role per se is not expected to look any different in 2020, his playing time could increase due to the fact that Kyle Van Noy left New England in free agency earlier this offseason.
What is his special teams value? Only five other Patriots saw a higher playing time share on special teams than Calhoun in 2019, a reflection of his overall kicking game value. Along the way, the 28-year-old saw action on five units: he played on punt and kickoff coverage, was used on both return squads, and also saw action on New England’s field goal and extra point blocking teams. If Calhoun wants to make the 53-man squad again this year, his kicking game contributions will likely have to open the door again.
Does he have positional versatility? Calhoun’s versatility is on display on not just on special teams, but also on the defensive side of the ball: New England used him all over its defensive line during his first season with the club. While he served primarily as an outside linebacker, as noted above, he also moved inside on occasion and also played off the line of scrimmage every now and then. He is no Van Noy when it comes to versatility, but he is no one-trick pony either.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots did allow Calhoun to test unrestricted free agency in March but eventually brought him back on another one-year contract — this one with a salary cap hit of $1.48 million. The deal itself is pretty straight forward: if New England decides to part ways with him, only his $250,000 signing bonus, which is the lone guarantee in his pact, would remain on the team’s books as dead money.
What is his roster outlook? Following the departure of Van Noy, the Patriots brought some serious talent on board to bolster its defensive edge: versatile rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are locks to make the team, with free agency acquisition Brandon Copeland also able to attack from the outside linebacker spot. With other players such as Derek Rivers also in the mix, Calhoun will likely have to a) keep his prominent special teams role and b) show some growth on defense to keep his job.