With the NFL-NFLPA Coronavirus deal introducing a roster limit of 80 to be reached before full-padded training camp practices are set to begin on August 17, the New England Patriots decided to trim their roster over the weekend. In total, the team decided to part ways with 10 players — most of which coming from the ranks of the undrafted rookie free agents. With the cuts over for now, the team sits below the 80-man limit which gives us a golden opportunity to take a look at who is still left to compete in camp.
Let’s go through each position to assess the personnel and the decisions New England’s staff will make to have between now and the start of the regular season in September.
Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer
No camp competition this summer will be as closely watched as the quarterback battle — one that is down to three players after undrafted rookies J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke were let go. While Hoyer is the remaining group’s elder statesman, the expectation is that Stidham and Newton will fight for the honor of replacing free agency departee Tom Brady: Stidham served as Brady’s backup in 2019, while Newton is a nine-year starter who won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award back in 2015.
Running back (6)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor
With undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor surviving this weekend’s purge, the Patriots will carry six running backs into training camp. Michel and Harris are the early-down options, Burkhead a change-of-pace back, White the third down and receiving back, Bolden a core special teamer and Taylor a possible receiving option trying to carve out a role on either the roster or practice squad. Realistically, no more than five players will be kept.
Danny Vitale, Jakob Johnson*
With James Develin announcing his retirement earlier this offseason, the Patriots will have an open competition for his role. While members of the team’s tight end depth chart are expected to play a role as well, Vitale and Johnson are the frontrunners at the moment. The former has the experience and proven production in the NFL, the latter the experience in the system and the versatility to possibly serve in the receiving game as well.
Wide receiver (11)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee, Matthew Slater, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross, Jeff Thomas
No position on New England’s roster carries as many players as wide receiver — and that is despite the recent releases of rookies Isaiah Zuber, Sean Riley and Will Hastings. Edelman, Harry and special teams ace Slater are locks to make the roster, with Sanu and Meyers also appearing to have very good chances entering their second years in the system. The other wideouts, meanwhile, will have to fight for roles on the perimeter (Byrd, Lee, Adeboyejo, Ross) or on the inside (Olszewski, Thomas).
Tight end (6)
Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Jake Burt, Rashod Berry
After completely overhauling their tight end position this offseason, the main question will be this one heading into camp: Who will join third-round rookies Asiasi and Keene on the roster? LaCosse and Izzo have an edge when it comes to experience, with the former entering his sixth year in the NFL. Realistically, the two of them will fight for the third and possibly fourth spots on the team — even though their is no guarantee the Patriots will even carry that many tight ends on their roster this year.
Offensive tackle (5)
Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Justin Herron
Isaiah Wynn is a lock to line up at left tackle for the Patriots this year, but the other starting spot could be the subject of some intrigue. While Cannon is the frontrunner to keep the job he has held ever since 2016, a standout summer by Cajuste could lead the team to make some tough decisions regarding the veteran and his $9.6 million salary cap number. That said, the projection at this point in time is that Wynn and Cannon will be the starters, with second-year man Cajuste as the third swing option behind them. Cunningham and Herron, meanwhile, will be fighting for the OT4 spot.
Interior offensive line (8)
Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Michael Onwenu, Dustin Woodard, Najee Toran
Keeping Joe Thuney under the franchise tag will allow the Patriots to retain one of the better offensive lines in football — one that will benefit from the return of center David Andrews, who missed all of 2019 after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. That said, Andrews is no lock to be back this year considering that he is falling under the league’s “high-risk” Covid-19 category. If he returns, however, he will be a part of a formidable interior line consisting of Thuney and Mason. The backup spots behind them, meanwhile, are open for competition.
Interior defensive line (7)
Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, Deatrich Wise Jr, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray
The top-three — Guy, Butler, Allen — are set in stone and form a solid interior group, which means that the other players will be fighting for one to two rotational roster spots alongside them. Wise Jr. and Cowart can currently be seen as the favorites to earn those positions given that a) both have previous experience in the system, and b) both have appeared in actual NFL games so far in their respective careers.
Defensive edge (6)
John Simon, Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, Tashawn Bower, Nick Coe
The departure of Kyle Van Noy weakened this group, but John Simon and Chase Winovich are a solid one-two punch: the former is a sturdy veteran, the latter a youngster looking to make the famous second-year jump. Both Simon and Winovich are locks to make the team, which will leave the other four edge defenders on the roster to fight for up to two spots within the rotation — depending on how the team projects the offseason additions to its move linebacker corps. Speaking of which...
Move linebacker (5)
Dont’a Hightower, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon Copeland, Terez Hall
Dont’a Hightower remains the leader of the Patriots’ defensive front-seven, with Day Two rookies Uche and Jennings locks to make the team alongside him. There are still questions related to the move group, however: Will Jamie Collins’ free agency departure be felt? Will Brandon Copeland be able to carve out a role alongside them? At which positions does the coaching staff see Uche, Jennings and Copeland? And will Terez Hall be a serious part of the equation as well?
Off-the-ball linebacker (4)
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon King, Cassh Maluia, De’Jon Harris
With Elandon Roberts having left New England in free agency, Maluia and Harris will be fighting for his old job this summer. Neither is a lock to make the team, though, given their draft status and raw skillsets. The same cannot be said for Bentley and King: the former projects to play a prominent part within the linebacker rotation, while the latter returns from a year-long stint on injured reserve to resume his role as a key special teamer.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross, Myles Bryant
There is arguably no other cornerback group in the NFL as talented as New England’s: Gilmore is the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and its best cover corner, McCourty and Jones well-established veterans, Jackson an emerging third-year man, Williams an intriguing former second-round pick, and Bethel an established special teamer. All of them are either locks to make the roster (Gilmore, McCourty, Jones, Jackson, Williams) or very safe bets (Bethel). Ross and Bryant, meanwhile, will be fighting for spots on the practice squad.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, Cody Davis
New England added some considerable talent to its safety group this offseason: second-round rookie Kyle Dugger is a lock to make the team, while offseason addition Adrian Phillips falls in the near-lock category. Brooks and Davis, meanwhile, have considerable experience on both defense and special teams — they appear to be fighting for the fifth and final spot on what is a very deep position depth chart.
Justin Rohrwasser, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
The release of long-time place kicker Stephen Gostkowski and subsequent addition of Justin Rohrwasser has changed the makeup of the specialists heading into 2020. That said, the group as a whole is pretty straight forward: Rohrwasser is the kicker, Bailey is the punter, Cardona is the long snapper. The three men do not face any competition whatsoever, and will simply have to work on creating some chemistry this summer.