Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.
All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is defensive tackle Carl Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.
Name: Carl Davis
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 98
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Following an impressive career at the University of Iowa, Carl Davis entered the 2014 NFL draft as one of the better prospects along the interior defensive line. As such, he was selected in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens. He did spend the first three years of his professional career in Baltimore but was unable to rise beyond reserve status: Davis appeared in 28 games for the club before eventually being released as part of the Ravens’ roster cutdowns ahead of the 2018 season.
Despite being a possible practice squad candidate, Davis never made it to Baltimore’s scout team and instead was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns. He remained with the team throughout the 2018 season, but played only 31 defensive snaps over five games. Nevertheless, he re-signed with the club the following offseason. However, Davis never set foot onto the field as a Brown again: he was released in August, and spent the 2019 season with the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
After appearing in a combined three games for the two AFC South squads, he eventually found his way to New England during the 2020 season. Once again, however, he failed to carve out a regular role and eventually saw only limited playing time all year.
What did his 2020 season look like? Just two days into the 2020 offseason, Davis was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the upcoming year: he was found to have violated the policy against performance-enhancing substances. Regardless of the suspension, the Jaguars did re-sign Davis in free agency. He was later released after the draft, re-signed, reinstated following his league-mandated absence, and eventually let go in mid-October after his roster exemption was lifted.
Davis eventually joined Jacksonville’s practice squad one day later, but did not stay there for long: the Patriots poached him off the developmental roster by signing him onto their 53-man squad the very next day. In New England, Davis finally saw some in-game action again by appearing in three contests while trying to fill the big-bodied nose tackle position that has been vacated due to Danny Shelton’s free agency departure and the mystery ailment that had knocked Beau Allen out of the season.
In that role, Davis appeared in three games as a Patriot and played a combined 51 snaps on defense as well as an additional 11 in the kicking game. Registering three tackles as well as a pair of quarterback pressures, the journeyman looked like a solid addition to fix a leaky run defense. However, he had already dealt with a concussion when arriving in New England and later was sent to injured reserve because of the same issue. Even though Davis returned to practice in mid-December he never was activated off IR.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? When Davis arrived in the league as a third-round draft selection by the Ravens, he signed a standard four-year rookie pact for $2.95 million. Even though Baltimore released him after three years, the Browns claiming him off waivers ensured that he played out the deal. Afterwards, he signed a variety of contracts in Indianapolis, Jacksonville and New England. All in all, Davis’ contractual career earnings are estimated at around $4.7 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? While his concussion issues might scare some teams off, his ability to function as a two-gapping interior defensive lineman could make Davis a potential target in free agency. The Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all listed as teams potentially addressing the position this offseason by Pro Football Focus.
Why should he be expected back? Davis appeared in only three games as a Patriot but showed some potential as a defensive tackle in the team’s system. Furthermore, the team is facing some serious turnover at the position with Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise Jr. also all headed for the open market. Retaining Davis would therefore bolster the overall depth and give the team a big-bodied option at the heart of its defense.
Why should he be expected to leave? Ever since leaving Baltimore, Davis has failed to live up to his draft status: he struggled to get onto the field in Cleveland, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, and also played only a handful of snaps with the Patriots. His limited upside in combination with his age and health concerns might make the team look elsewhere to bolster a defensive line that was unable to fill the big-bodied nose tackle role in 2020.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Even though the Patriots could very well decide to bring Davis back on a veteran’s minimum deal and give him another shot to carve out a role, it would also not be a surprise to see them look elsewhere for defensive tackle help this season. After all, his skillset does not necessarily stand out and New England does have the resources to invest in higher-upside interior linemen in free agency or the draft.