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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Free agency pickup Ben Braden adds versatility to New England’s offensive line

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: TE Alex Ellis

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

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.

Hard facts

Name: Ben Braden

Position: Guard/Offensive tackle

Jersey number: 65

Opening day age: 26

Size: 6-foot-6, 330 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Despite starting 36 games over his five years at Michigan and seeing action nat both guard and tackle, Ben Braden did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. Instead, he had to go the free agency route — entering the league when the New York Jets picked him up. His standing on the team’s roster, however, was not secure during his first two years with the club saw: he regularly moved between the Jets’ active roster and practice squad.

Braden spent his rookie year on the practice squad, before making the Jets’ opening day 53 in 2018 but later moving back to their practice squad. And even though he was picked up by the Green Bay Packers the following year, he eventually found his way back to New York again when the Jets re-signed him during the 2019 regular season. Along the way, Braden has appeared in just three regular season games and has played a mere 13 snaps while being used exclusively in the kicking game.

What did his 2019 season look like? Braden did appear in two games for the Jets in 2018, but was not guaranteed a spot on their roster heading into his third NFL season. Instead, he again had to prove himself in training camp and the preseason — seeing regular opportunities during New York’s exhibition schedule: the former Wolverine appeared in all four of the Jets’ games, and was on the field for 208 of a possible 270 offensive snaps (77%) while lining up both at left and right guard.

Braden, who also played 15 snaps as part of the Jets’ special teams units (of 117; 12.8%), was mostly serviceable but had his inconsistencies as both a run blocker and a pass protector: while he surrendered no sacks, he did give up five combined quarterback hurries. Nevertheless, New York decided to keep him around when he was re-signed to its practice squad following his release on cutdown day. Braden did not find a permanent home on the Jets’ developmental roster, however, and was released one week into the season.

After going unclaimed on waivers, he was picked up by the Packers’ practice squad. Braden spent two months in Wisconsin before being let go again, and returning to the Jets: he was signed to their own practice squad again in mid-November, and a month later promoted to the 53-man roster. Braden even appeared in one game for the team, when it used him on five special teams snaps during its Week 17 win over the Buffalo Bills. All in all, however, his third year in the league was again relatively uneventful.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? With the Patriots’ starting lineup set at four of their five offensive line spots, the expectation is that Braden will at best compete for a backup role. How it will look like depends on how coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo view his skillset: he has the size and experience to line up at tackle, but has also played considerable snaps inside at guard. Either way, the 26-year-old offers depth at multiple positions.

What is his special teams value? Given his position, Braden’s special teams value is somewhat limited: he has played only as a protector on field goal and extra point attempts — a typical role for an offensive lineman in the kicking game and one he is expected to resume with his new team. He also has some experience in this area, having played all 13 of his regular season snaps as a member of the Jets’ special teams units.

Does he have positional versatility? Versatility, as pointed out above, may be Braden’s biggest asset upon arriving in New England. He has seen noteworthy action — albeit only in preseason — at three different spots along the line: he was used at right guard and right tackle during his first two years in New York before also seeing snaps at left guard in 2019. The Patriots may project him differently, but his experience at multiple positions is still valuable.

What is his salary cap situation? The exact details of Braden’s contract with the Patriots have not been reported just yet, but the expectation is that his one-year contract is for the veteran minimum. Given his experience in the league, this means that he will receive a non-guaranteed salary of $675,000 — a number that will not count against New England’s salary under the NFL’s top-51 rule. Braden will only hit the team’s books if he makes the active roster or practice squad.

What is his roster outlook? Much like fellow free agency pickups Alex Ellis and Paul Butler, Braden faces an uphill battle to make New England’s 53-man roster this year given that he arrived relatively late in the process. Add the fact that the Patriots have some developmental talent both along the interior offensive line (Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu) and at right tackle (Jermaine Eluemunor, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Justin Herron) and he will need to adapt quickly in order to carve out a spot — most likely on the practice squad rather than the active team.