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 special teamer Cody Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.
Name: Cody Davis
Position: Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 22
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Davis started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent signing by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. While his defensive playing time was limited early on in his career, he immediately carved out a spot in the kicking game. During his five years with the organization, his role evolved and he eventually was a regular on five of the Rams’ special teams units between 2015 and 2017 — all while also seeing increased action as a rotational safety during his final two years with the club, playing over 500 snaps on defense.
After appearing in a combined 66 regular season and playoff games for the team, Davis joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent in 2018. At that point, his usage began to change a bit: he was no longer used prominently on the defensive side of the ball, but remained a core special teamer. Overall, he was on the field for 32 games as a Jaguar, playing a combined 745 of a possible 866 special teams snaps in 2018 and 2019 (86%). Davis also registered 18 kicking game tackles and one block during his time in Jacksonville.
In 2020, Davis eventually joined the Patriots on a one-year free agent deal. New England opted to employ the veteran similarly to how the Jaguars used him: he was a core special teamer who had no impact whatsoever on the defensive side of the ball.
What did his 2020 season look like? Shortly after his contract in Jacksonville expired, Davis joined the Patriots on a one-year pact valued at $1.5 million. The deal itself did not guarantee the veteran a spot on the roster, but it did allow him to compete for playing time on a special teams unit that had lost Nate Ebner as an unrestricted free agent just a few days prior. Davis was eventually able to not just make the team, but also to carve out a prominent role as a key member of the kicking game unit.
As such, he appeared in 13 of a possible 16 games and saw action on five special teams units: Davis was employed both on the kickoff return and coverage units as well as the two punt teams — including in Ebner’s old role of personal protector for All-Pro punter Jake Bailey. Furthermore, he also saw regular snaps as a member of New England’s field goal and extra point blocking units. Despite missing three games on injured reserve due to a rib ailment, Davis still finished third on the team in kicking game snaps (256 of 397; 64.5%).
Davis did not just receive plenty of opportunities in the game’s third phase, he also made a major impact on one of the NFL’s top special teams groups. Whether it was downfield blocking for another All-Pro, punt returner Gunner Olszewski, helping out in coverage by registering nine tackles, or pressuring opposing punters, the 31-year-old did it all. His most prominent play, however, came as a field goal blocker: in Week 13, he blocked a Los Angeles Chargers attempt that was subsequently returned for a touchdown by Devin McCourty.
Even though the Patriots did not give him any opportunities at his listed position of safety, Davis had a highly productive first season with the team. New England needed to replace Nate Ebner after he left for the New York Giants, and they did just that by bringing Davis aboard to take over his previous responsibilities.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Davis arrived in the NFL as a rookie free agent, and originally signed a standard three-year pact with the Rams. That original deal did not stay intact throughout his time with the organization due to a trip to the practice squad as a rookie, but it was the basis upon which he spent his first years in the league until signing a new, $2.9 million deal in 2016. Two years later, Davis arrived in Jacksonville on another two-year pact that was valued at $5 million. Adding the deal he received from the Patriots last year, Davis’ contractual career earnings are estimated at $10.8 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? Despite seeing regular action as a safety earlier in his career, Davis cannot be considered much of a factor on defense. Accordingly, teams in need of safety help will likely not look his way in free agency. Clubs with weaknesses in the kicking game, however, might be interested in obtaining his services: the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings come to mind as potential suitors.
Why should he be expected back? Davis played some impressive football in his first season in New England, and has helped fill the void of Nate Ebner’s departure. Keeping him around would furthermore ensure some stability in the kicking game: fellow special teamer Justin Bethel is a free agent as well, while Matthew Slater’s future in the league is uncertain at age 35. Keeping Davis in the fold would help keep the core of the special teams crew intact at least partially.
Why should he be expected to leave? The Patriots will likely try to bring Davis back, but the market will be a deciding factor. And with Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel potentially returning for the 2021 season as well, plus Joejuan Williams seeing increased special teams action last season and Brandon King a candidate to come back after missing back-to-back seasons, the team might decide it has only so many resources available to compete with others trying to lure Davis away.
What is his projected free agency outcome? While anything can happen in free agency, the Patriots retaining Davis is the expected outcome: the two have worked well alongside each other in 2020, and New England has always put a high value on special teams contributions. Even though he is on the plus-side of 30 already, Davis returning on a two-year deal worth around $3-4 million would be a good deal for both team and player.