With less than three weeks 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 — a Groundhog Day of sorts given that we did the same thing 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 undrafted rookie class.
Name: Bill Murray
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6-foot-3, 295 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Murray originally arrived in the NFL when the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent shortly after he went unselected in this year’s draft. His experience in the league is therefore limited to the team’s virtual offseason workouts as well as its rookie developmental program. But while he can be seen as a Man Who Knew Too Little based on his time at the professional level so far, the youngster has played a lot of football while earning his Stripes at William & Mary between 2015 and 2019.
Murray was no Kingpin when he started his college career, redshirting during his first season with the Tribe and serving in a rotational role in 2016. His sophomore year presented a Quick Change, though, as he earned a starting job and never looked back. Murray thus went on to finish his time at the school with 40 in-game appearances as well as 19 sacks from his defensive tackle position. He also blocked an impressive 10 kicks in four seasons and was named second team All-CAA in both 2018 and 2019.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off an impressive two-year stretch in 2017 and 2018, Murray decided to stay in school for his final year of eligibility to continue his quest to carve out a spot on William & Mary’s Mount Rushmore. He did just that in 2019 by adding to his legacy as one of the program’s best ever players: Murray’s senior campaign saw him start all 11 of the Tribes’ contests while he also was able to lead the team in sacks (6.0), tackles for loss (11.5) and blocked kicks (4).
Voted a captain for the first time in his career, the Larger than Life persona also led the nation with four blocked kicks — two of which against Rhode Island in early November. Murray’s most memorable game of the season, however, might have just been the final collegiate contest of his career: he not only registered a season-high three tackles for loss and had another block, but also registered a sack and forced a fumble. On top of it all, he furthermore caught a two-point conversion.
Nothing Lasts Forever, however, and his momentum did not carry over into the pre-draft process: despite an impressive year and being named to the All-CAA team for a second year in a row, Murray flew under the radar heading towards the pro level.
What is his projected role? Murray was primarily used as a defensive tackle in college — a role he is also projected to play in New England. As such, he might align either in the 3-technique spot or occasionally move to the nose in the team’s three-man fronts. Considering that his size makes him a candidate to Get Low in the passing game, the Patriots could opt to employ him like they used Adam Butler early in his career: as a sub-package pass rusher whose run-looks will be rather limited at first.
What is his special teams value? As noted above, Murray blocked an impressive 10 kicks during his time at William & Mary. The Patriots are therefore likely to give him a prominent role on their field goal and extra point block teams right away, while possibly also using him on punt return squads as a rusher from the interior line. No matter how he is employed in the kicking game, though, the 22-year-old needs to Get Smart quickly and impress in the game’s third phase in order to have a chance to make the team.
Does he have positional versatility? Murray was moved around the defensive line a bit and also showed his versatility by catching the aforementioned two-point conversion during his senior season, but he should not be expected to become a jack-of-all-trades at the next level. While his lack of outstanding athletic traits will limit his overall usage, however, the Patriots will likely try him out in numerous techniques between the offensive tackles over the course of the summer to see where he is most comfortable.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots said Aloha to Murray after he went unselected in the draft, they signed him to a standard three-year contract that included a $10,000 signing bonus as well as a $115,000 salary guarantee. While his $125,000 in guarantees is the second highest total on the team, the deal as a whole is still reflective of his lower-tier status on the roster and will count only $613,333 against New England’s salary cap should he survive cutdown day.
What is his roster outlook? Even though the Patriots did not invest in their defensive tackle position in the draft, Murray joined a deep group when the team brought him aboard. He therefore faces a Space Jam when it comes to making either the roster or practice squad: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Beau Allen are guaranteed spots on the team, with Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman, Courtney Wallace and himself fighting for a potential fourth spot on the depth chart. But even if he fails to do enough Wild Things to make the 53-man squad, Murray appears to be a prime candidate for a spot on New England’s practice squad.