The New England Patriots parted ways with 24 players on Saturday and when it came to building their 16-man practice squad today had free pickings: all three veterans released were still available as were those 21 men who had to pass through the waiver wire in order to be re-added. The first practice squad of the season therefore exclusively consists of in-house talent at the moment — something that is expected to change very soon.
With that being said, let’s break down the initial squad.
The practice squad serves as an extension of the 53-man roster
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke at length about building the practice squad during his media conference call on Friday. One thing he noted was the role of the developmental roster as an extension of the active team: with only so many spots available on the 53-man squad, some positions are bound to have less depth than others. The practice squad can help address those potential shortcomings, however, and the team’s 2020 version at this point does just that.
The Patriots currently carry two wide receivers (Devin Ross, Isaiah Zuber), three tight ends (Rashod Berry, Jake Burt, Paul Quessenberry), three defensive tackles (Bill Murray, Nick Thurman, Xavier Williams) as well as four linebackers (Rashod Berry again, Tashawn Bower, Terez Hall, Cassh Maluia). All three of the positions currently lack proven depth, which is why New England is playing it safe by keeping additional talent available.
The xx Jeff Thomas hype train will not leave the station
Entering training camp, few if any members of the Patriots’ undrafted free agent class were hyped up as much as Jeff Thomas. His athleticism and high ceiling were praised immediately after his arrival, and the young wide receiver was seen as a dark horse candidate to make the 53-man roster. However, he failed to even jump onto the practice squad: Thomas is among eight players released on Saturday to not be re-signed the following day. He could be brought back at a later point, but so far the team is apparently more willing to go with other options.
Two veterans make the cut under the new rules...
When the new NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed into effect in March, it drastically changed the practice squad. Not only are promotion rules different when compared to the old labor deal, teams are also allowed to carry veterans now — something that was previously not the case. While the original CBA allowed for two such players to make the cut, the version that was revised due to Covid-19 opened up six of the now 16 total spots for veteran players.
The Patriots added two of them today: defensive tackle Xavier Williams and kicker Nick Folk were signed despite having five and 12 years of service on their respective résumés. Under the CBA both of them will make $12,000 per week that they are on the 16-man team.
...but not a single outside addition
Keeping 16 internal options on the practice squad also means that New England did not add any outside talent via its practice squad. That being said, two players appear to be in the pipeline: according to a report by ESPN’s Turron Davenport, the Patriots are expected to sign a pair of undrafted rookie free agents who started it career with the Tennessee Titans earlier this year. At this time, however, neither Mason Kinsey nor Kristian Wilkerson are with the Patriots just yet.
One reason for that could be the league’s Coronavirus testing protocols. The two of them will need to be cleared before being allowed into the building, something that may not have been possible ahead of Sunday night. Instead, the Patriots filled the practice squad — at least until those two wideouts and potential other outsiders can officially be signed — with players already in the area who were also able to participate in today’s practice.
Don’t get used to the current squad
As the reports linking Kinsey and Wilkerson to the Patriots show, the practice squad and the 53-man roster remain a work in progress. None of the 16 players are therefore safe, but promotions could be on the horizon as well: with New England possibly moving talent from its active team to the short-term injured reserve list — an unlimited number of players can be brought back after three weeks — the open spots could be filled with current practice squad members.