With the NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror and voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 91 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series kicks continues with punter Jake Bailey.
Name: Jake Bailey
Position: Punter/Holder/Kickoff specialist
Jersey number: 7
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Before joining the Patriots as the 163rd overall selection in the 2019 NFL draft, Bailey saw considerable action during his four-year college career at Stanford. Playing in a combined 52 games as a Cardinal, he attempted 185 punts which sailed for 8,105 yards — setting a school record in career punting average with 43.8 yards per kick. Furthermore, Bailey entered the NFL with 291 kickoffs on his rather impressive résumé.
In New England, he quickly earned the team’s punter job due to strong performances in training camp and preseason. Holding a triple role as punter, holder and kickoff specialist, Bailey followed an encouraging rookie campaign with an All-Pro performance in 2020. In total, he has so far appeared in a combined 33 regular season and playoff games. Attempting 141 punts for an average of 46.4 yards per kick, he established himself as one of the best punters in football over his two seasons in the NFL.
What did his 2020 season look like? Bailey’s rookie season was a promising one even though he showed some inconsistencies near the end after also being asked to take over kickoff duties. Despite his workload staying unchanged were no signs of those struggles in Year 2. In fact, as noted above, the former fifth-round draft choice developed into arguably the best punter in the league and was eventually named first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl due to his contributions in 2020.
All in all, Bailey attempted 55 punts throughout the regular season, for 2,678 yards and a gross average of 48.7 yards per kick. Of those kicks, 10 ended as touchbacks (5) or sailed out of bounds (5), 18 were fairly caught, and 15 downed by the Patriots’ own coverage unit. Only 12 punts were actually run back by the team’s opponents for an average of 5.9 yards per return — noticeably lower than the Patriots’ own punt return average of 15.5 yards.
Bailey’s numbers presented a clear improvement over his rookie performance. Attempting 26 fewer punts, he boosted his gross yards per attempt by 3.8 yards (44.9 to 48.7) and his net by 4.3 (41.3 to 45.6). His net gain per punt actually played a big role in him being recognized after the season: Bailey was clearly the best punter in football in this category — a result of not only his consistency and outstanding ball placement but also his ability to work in unison with core coverage players such as Matthew Slater or Justin Bethel.
Just like he did in 2019, Bailey also filled the role as New England’s kickoff specialist again. Despite added competition in the form of re-signed place kicker Nick Folk and rookie Justin Rohrwasser, the second-year man never appeared to be in any real danger of losing the job. He ended up kicking off 72 times during the season: 29 of those kickoffs were returned for an average of 21.9 yards, while 42 ended as touchbacks. Bailey also attempted an unsuccessful onside kick (while none of his kickoffs landed out of bounds).
Finally, Bailey also served as New England’s holder on place kicking attempts. Nick Folk’s combined field goal and extra point accuracy of 91.8 percent (56 of 61) is proof that the punter and kickoff specialist did his third job on a high level as well.
What is his projected role? There is no doubt that Bailey will again serve as New England’s punter and holder in 2021, and it also seems highly likely that he will keep the kickoff role as well. After all, the Patriots re-signed Nick Folk to a one-year contract in free agency that seems to indicate that he will work as the team’s place kicker this year. With Folk seemingly set for another year and Bailey going nowhere as well, their roles staying the same as last season should be expected.
What is his special teams value? Bailey’s value to the Patriots lies exclusively in the kicking game, and this will not change in 2021. While it remains to be seen whether or not he will be used outside of his punter, holder and projected kickoff duties, any other employment does not appear to be in the cards. That said, he did register one 17-yard run during his career at Stanford and might be asked to carry or even throw the ball on the occasional trick play.
Does he have positional versatility? From a pure special teams perspective, Bailey does have positional versatility: he has proven that he is capable of performing at an All-Pro level as a punter, but also that he can work as a kickoff specialist as well. On top of it all, he also is a steady presence in the field goal and extra point game due to his role as a holder.
What is his salary cap situation? Bailey is entering the third season of his four-year rookie deal, and as such is on the Patriots’ books with a salary cap hit of $922,520 (and currently outside the contracts counting against the cap during the top-51 offseason rule). While New England could create gross savings of $777,480 by parting ways with him, his contract presents tremendous value and will therefore not be touched in any way this season.
What is his roster outlook? Considering that Bailey is coming off an outstanding season and does not have any competition on the roster when it comes to the punter gig, he is as safe a player as any on the current roster to make the Patriots’ 53-man squad heading into 2021. He will be a core member of New England’s special teams operation yet again, and should be able to fully establish himself among the best punters in football.