With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 78 players officially 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 continue to 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 the recent additions to New England’s roster.
Name: Alex Ellis
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 88
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-4, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 RFA)
What is his experience? Following a moderately successful five-year career at the University of Tennessee, Ellis entered NFL as a rookie free agent in 2016. The Tennessee Titans picked him up after the draft, but he failed to survive roster cutdown day and instead went on to join the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad. He was later promoted to the Jaguars’ active team, playing in six games and making three catches for 11 yards — the only offensive statistics he has so far registered as a pro outside of preseason competition.
Ellis failed to find a permanent home in Jacksonville, however, and was let go the following year. He spent some time on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad in 2017 and even signed a futures pact, but was let go again in May. The Kansas City Chiefs subsequently claimed him off waivers and even used him in two contests before moving him to their injured reserve list in October 2018. Ellis went on to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles the next year, adding three more in-game appearances to his career résumé.
What did his 2019 season look like? Ellis’ contract with the Chiefs expired at the end of the 2018 league year, but it took him almost five months to sign his next deal: he remained on the open market until the Eagles picked him up early during their training camp. Despite joining the club relatively late in the process, however, Ellis received regular playing time during Philadelphia’s preseason — giving him an opportunity to earn a roster or practice squad spot as a depth option behind tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Ellis saw action in all four exhibition contests and was on the field for 79 of a possible 241 offensive snaps (32.8%) as well as 35 on special teams (of 97; 36.1%). Serving primarily as an in-line blocker, the veteran posted some comparatively pedestrian numbers: he caught three of the four passes thrown his way for a combined 28 yards and one touchdown; he also registered an assisted tackle in the kicking game. The Eagles releasing him on cutdown day was therefore no real surprise, but the team still decided to keep him around.
The Tennessee product was re-signed via the practice squad after his release, and even promoted to the 53-man roster five days later. Ellis moved between the active roster and the developmental team during the first month of the season — appearing in three of four games along the way and playing six offensive snaps (of 291; 2.1%) as well as 62 on special teams (of 110; 56.4%). Unfortunately, he suffered a setback in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers when he hurt his knee and was later waived with an injury designation.
Ellis cleared waivers and reverted to the Eagles’ injured reserve list, only to be let go with a settlement one week later. He remained unsigned during his rehabilitation period, but eventually returned to Philadelphia in mid-December: the Eagles picked him up once again via their practice squad, and eventually signed him to a futures contract after their season had come to an end. He was let go again before the start of training camp last month.
What is his projected role? While Ellis has seen some action as a pass catcher as well, he is projected to continue to play the role he held ever since arriving in the NFL in 2016: blocking tight end. As such, he will challenge the most experienced blocker on the Patriots’ current roster, Ryan Izzo, for a rotational role alongside roster locks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — both of which more well-rounded options as opposed to the in-line player that is Ellis.
What is his special teams value? Ellis has considerable experience in the kicking game going all the way back to his rookie season with the Jaguars. Back then, he was used on five special teams units — kickoff and punt return, kickoff and punt coverage, field goal and extra point kicking — and continued to be used in a similar role in Philadelphia and to a smaller degree Kansas City as well. The expectation is that New England also gives him regular looks in the game’s third phase.
Does he have positional versatility? While primarily an in-line tight end, Ellis was used around the offensive formation at times so far in his career. He has some experience lining up in the backfield as a fullback as well as split out wide or in the slot as a receiving option — all while offering value in the kicking game as well. Realistically speaking, however, the role that suits him best is that of an in-line blocker in the mold of former Patriot Dwayne Allen.
What is his salary cap situation? No exact details of Ellis’ contract with the Patriots have been reported just yet, but the expectation is that his one-year contract is for the veteran minimum. As a fifth-year player, this means that he will receive a non-guaranteed salary of $825,000 — a number that will count against New England’s salary despite the NFL’s top-51 rule. The team’s cap will therefore decrease by $150,000 as he pushes another player with a lower salary off the list.
What is his roster outlook? Ellis adds some experience to the Patriots’ young tight end room, but his late arrival puts him in an unfavorable situation to earn a roster or practice squad spot behind the aforementioned Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. To stick around, he will have to prove his value against the other tight ends under contract: Ryan Izzo as well as offseason additions Jake Burt, Rashod Berry (who saw more action as a defender than a tight end so far in training camp) and Paul Butler. There is a chance he beats them out and ultimately makes the 53-man squad, but the odds do not favor him.