With only a few days to go until their entire roster will report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 75 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 front-seven.
Name: Tashawn Bower
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 96
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 RFA)
What is his experience? While he appeared in 40 games during his career at LSU, Bower’s rotational role prevented him from hearing his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. Instead, he had to go through free agency to find a home in the pros. Find one he did, however, when the Minnesota Vikings picked him up — and not just that: despite his contractual status, the rookie impressed during his first training camp and preseason and made the team’s 53-man roster in his first year.
Seeing some rotational action on defense and special teams, Bower went on to appear in two games during the 2017 season before playing in five the subsequent year. He also registered one sack along the way, but suffered a setback when he hurt his Achilles while preparing for his third year in the league. The injury eventually led the Vikings to part ways with the former Tiger, which allowed him to join the Patriots via their practice squad. Now, Bower is about to enter his first training camp with the club.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the most productive season of his professional career — he had played 53 defensive snaps over five games in 2018 — Bower was again projected to compete for a rotational role on the Vikings’ defensive edge. However, his plans changed drastically when he tore his Achilles tendon during a workout in March. The injury forced him to sit out Minnesota’s spring practices, and to spend all of training camp and the first six weeks of the regular season on the non-football injury list.
By mid-October, Bower was healthy enough to practice again. Instead of activating him their active roster, however, the Vikings decided to waive him. He remained on the open market for a month, before traveling to New England to work out for the Patriots. The job interview apparently went well as the team decided to sign him to its practice squad shortly thereafter. Bower went on to spend the remainder of the 2019 season on New England’s developmental roster and was signed to a futures pact in January.
What is his projected role? While he has yet to appear in a game for the Patriots, the expectation is that the team will use Bower like the Vikings did between the 2017 and 2018 seasons: he served as a rotational end on both sides of Minnesota’s 4-3 defensive front, aligning primarily from the 5-technique spot out. Most of his snaps came as a situational pass rusher, but he has seen some early-down work against the run as well.
What is his special teams value? Bower has only eight regular season snaps in the kicking game on his résumé, but that does not mean he has only little value in the game’s third phase. After all, the Vikings regularly employed him as part of their special teams units during preseason and Bower saw action on all six units — from punt return and coverage, to kickoff return and coverage, to field goal/extra point kicking and blocking. New England will likely give him extensive looks as well.
Does he have positional versatility? Bower’s versatility when it comes to special teams certainly stands out, but on the defensive side of the ball his role was more clearly defined since he arrived in the NFL in 2017. He served exclusively a defensive edge, lining up either in a three-point stance as an end or a two-point stance as an outside linebacker. Given how they use their edge players, however, it would not be surprising if Bower received some snaps as a sub-rusher from the interior as well in New England.
What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, the Patriots decided to keep Bower before his practice squad contract expired: he signed a one-year futures contract with the organization that carries a salary cap hit of $795,000 — $35,000 of which in the form of a fully guaranteed signing bonus. Accordingly, the team would only take on a comparatively small dead money hit if it opted to part ways with the 25-year-old at one point this year.
What is his roster outlook? The Patriots’ outside/move linebacker corps lost some serious talent since last season: Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins left in free agency, while Dont’a Hightower recently announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to Coronavirus concerns. Despite that and Bower’s status as one of the most experienced linebackers on New England’s roster, he will have to fight for a job this summer and show that he can earn a rotational role alongside John Simon and Chase Winovich. Building a versatile profile on both defense and special teams could be the key.