What the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game are for college players trying to make it to the NFL, the Spring League is for veterans who are looking for another shot in the league. It is a developmental setting that will allow players an opportunity to compete against each other in a professional environment and possible showcase that they still belong on NFL rosters.
Since its inception in 2017, 104 players have been able to make that jump. A total of 22 teams have so far sent members of their scouting departments to evaluate the participants.
This year’s edition of the Spring League will be kicked off on Thursday, and the New England Patriots are well represented as a look at the league’s rosters shows. In total, six former members of the organization are among the participants (Spring League teams in parentheses):
S Malik Gant (Generals): Gant joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2019 and received considerable playing time during his first preseason with the club. Well on his way to earn a spot on the practice squad, however, he injured his right leg and was sent to season-ending injured reserve. The following offseason, he was released when teams had to cut their rosters from 90 to 80 because of NFL Coronavirus regulations.
QB Brian Lewerke (Alphas): Another victim of the roster cut from 90 to 80 last spring, Lewerke had arrived in New England as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He was let go to reduce the roster, but re-signed just a few days later. However, after spending the roster as the Patriots’ fourth quarterback he was released again in early September and not brought back.
CB William Likely (Jousters): After not hearing his name called in the 2017 NFL Draft, Likely signed a free agent deal with the Patriots. He did spend the entire training camp and preseason on the club’s roster, but was let go on roster cutdown day. After spending the season out of football, Likely took his talents to the Canadian Football League and the short-lived XFL.
QB Ryan Mallett (Generals): A third-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2011, Mallett is among the highest-profile participants in this year’s Spring League. He spent three seasons in New England as Tom Brady’s backup — appearing in three games along the way — before being traded to the Houston Texans in 2014. He started six games during his time in Houston, and later two more in Baltimore, but never elevated beyond reserve status. After some unsuccessful workouts and a stint as a high school coach in his home state of Arkansas, the 32-year-old will now return to under center.
LB Christian Sam (Jousters): Another draft pick by the Patriots, Sam joined the team as a sixth-rounder in 2018. As opposed to Ryan Mallett, however, he never so any regular season action: Sam was placed on injured reserve as a rookie and later let go by the team the following year. Since then, the 24-year-old has bounced around practice squads in Miami, San Francisco and Detroit.
LB Kyahva Tezino (Aviators): Tezino joined the Patriots alongside Brian Lewerke as a member of the team’s 2020 undrafted rookie class. Like the quarterback, however, he also fell victim to the 90-to-80 roster cutdown ahead of training camp. Whereas Lewerke returned, Tezino left New England after being claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. His stint with the team lasted only three weeks, though, before he was let go again.
Now, all six of them will try to make a name for themselves in the Spring League. This year’s version, which will aim to attempt to some normalcy after last year’s challenges due to Covid-19, will consist of eight teams. The North Division will be headquartered in Indianapolis with the South Division operating out of Houston.
“I think The Spring League ... is a great opportunity,” former Syracuse quarterback and Spring League participant Eric Dungey told SB Nation’s Syracuse community. “And for a lot of free agents, and just the time right now in the pandemic that we’re in, opportunities are far and near, and you have to take them when you can get them. This is a phenomenal opportunity for guys like me who need to get film and who need to just show that they can play still.
“Because last year, the CFL really wasn’t running, the XFL obviously went under, so as the NFL but even with those, there’s very strict protocols with workouts and whatnot, even workouts are limited. So again, this is a great opportunity for a lot of guys like myself to just go out there and play, put something on film and hopefully get something in the future.”
For the first time since its inception, all games will be broadcast. One game every week will be shown on Fox, including the championship game. The other contests will be broadcast on FS1.