The biggest special teams moves made by the New England Patriots this offseason were re-signing place kicker Nick Folk and coverage aces Justin Bethel and Cody Davis, thus allowing one of the best kicking game units in football to stay largely intact heading into 2021. But even with the three veterans back in the fold, the moves have not stopped.
On Wednesday, lost between the re-signings of team captains James White and Lawrence Guy, the Patriots also brought in free agent special teams linebacker LaRoy Reynolds. While the veteran will likely not be guaranteed a spot on the roster given his journeyman status, he does have plenty of experience in the game’s third phase and could at the very least serve as competition for some of the younger players under contract.
Name: LaRoy Reynolds
Position: Linebacker/Special teamer
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-1, 230 pounds
Despite coming off a productive four-year career at Virginia that saw him appear in 45 games and move from safety to linebacker, Reynolds did not hear his name called during the 2013 draft. Instead, he had to test free agency before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars — the first of many stops on his NFL journey. After leaving the Jaguars in 2015, Reynolds also spent time in Chicago (2015), Atlanta (2016-17; 2020), Philadelphia (2018), San Francisco (2019) and Cincinnati (2019).
Along the way he appeared in a combined 122 regular season and playoff contests, while playing roughly four kicking game snaps for every defensive snap. His numbers reflect this usage, with Reynolds having 52 tackles as well as two fumble recoveries on his career special teams résumé. Meanwhile, he has made only 65 total tackles on defense (for comparison, four members of the Patriots’ defense had more than that in 2020 alone). Long story short, Reynolds is a special teamer through and through.
What is his projected role in New England? While listed as a linebacker and bringing some experience as an off-ball defender to the table, Reynolds will likely not see much if any action at the position. Instead, the Patriots will use him primarily in the kicking game: he will see action on both the kickoff and punt coverage teams as well as the two return squads. He also could see some time on the field goal and extra point blocking units.
Where does he fit on the linebacker chart? The Patriots’ off-the-ball linebacker group still lacks some high-end talent outside of move option Dont’a Hightower, and Reynolds is not that. If he makes the team, he will likely serve as the last layer on the depth chart behind Hightower, Anfernee Jennings, Ja’Whaun Bentley and others. He is likely competing with fellow LINO (linebacker-in-name-only) Brandon King for one spot on the team.
Does he have positional versatility? Being a four-unit special teamer, Reynolds brings considerable versatility in this area to the table. Within each of those units, meanwhile, he has been moved around quite a bit. In total, he aligned in 22 different positions on the four coverage and return squads for the Falcons in 2020.
What is his special teams value? As should be abundantly clear by now, if there is one way for Reynolds onto the Patriots’ 53-man roster come September it is via special teams. His value in the kicking game far outshines what he can offer on defense based on his career progression so far, and New England will use him accordingly.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? Based on his contractual history in combination with his age and status as a journeyman and career special teamer, the expectation is that Reynolds will join the Patriots on a cost-effective deal. While the details of his contract have not yet been reported as of Thursday morning, his cap impact will be minimal if he even cracks the top-51 list.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Regardless of Reynolds’ addition to the linebacker and special teams groups, the Patriots could look to the draft to bolster the depth in both areas. Off-the-ball linebacker remains a definitive need given Dont’a Hightower’s age and the depth around him, while kicking game contributions can come in many shapes regardless of listed position.
One-sentence verdict: Following in the footsteps of Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, Reynolds offers linebacker depth in theory and special teams experience in practice.
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