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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Will Adrian Colbert find a permanent home in New England?

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: CB Justin Bethel

Philadelphia Eagles v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With mandatory minicamp starting this week, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and 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 continues with safety Adrian Colbert

Hard facts

Name: Adrian Colbert

Position: Safety

Jersey number: 30

Opening day age: 27

Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Coming off a college career that saw him appear in 47 games for the Universities of Texas and Miami (FL), Colbert did have to wait until the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft to hear his name called: the San Francisco 49ers selected him with the 229th overall pick. Despite his draft status, however, he was able to make the team and even appeared in 14 games as a rookie — playing a combined 698 snaps between defense and special teams — with six starts.

Colbert failed to build on his early-career momentum, however, and saw injuries disrupt his development. The 49ers eventually released him ahead of his third regular season, and he ended up spending time with the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins in 2019. He later joined the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants, before arriving in New England this offseason. In total, Colbert has played 33 games over the course of his four-year career as a rotational safety and special teamer.

What did his 2020 season look like? Even though he started their final five games of the 2019 season, the Dolphins decided against tendering Colbert as a restricted free agent heading into the 2020 offseason. Instead, they allowed him to test the open market before ultimately re-signing him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. Despite the deal including $450,000 in guarantees it did not guarantee him a spot on Miami’s roster: Colbert was released again midway through training camp.

After a week on the open market, he was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs. Joining the then-reigning world champions’ roster late in the process, he faced an uphill climb to make the team. Seeing him released once again on roster cutdown day was therefore no surprise. What might have been a bit surprising, though, was the fact that he was immediately claimed off waivers after getting the axe from the Chiefs: the New York Giants picked him up and added him to their own active roster instead of allowing him to hit free agency.

Colbert went on to spend his entire 2020 campaign in New York, but he saw only irregular opportunities to prove himself. With quad and shoulder injuries forcing him to miss considerable time during the season, he ended up playing just six games. During those contests, he was on the field for 104 defensive snaps and 43 more on special teams: in total, Colbert ended his year with the Giants having played 9.5 percent of their snaps on defense, and 10.4 percent in the kicking game.

Along the way, he registered 10 tackles when on defense — 6 in the passing game and 4 against the run — and allowed opposing quarterbacks to go 4-for-5 for 76 yards and a touchdown when targeting him in coverage. Colbert, who did not see any defensive playing time over the final two games of the season, also was flagged three times and registered three total tackles on special teams. All in all, his season was one of some ups but plenty of downs as well.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? The Patriots are well-set at the safety position, with Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips all locks to make the roster. Colbert would therefore play a rotational backup role behind the starting trio and offer experience both on the defensive side of the ball and in the kicking game. Based on his previous usage since entering the NFL, he projects as more of a free safety like McCourty rather than a box defender in the mold of Phillips or recently retired Patrick Chung.

What is his special teams value? While he saw only limited playing time since leaving the 49ers in 2019, Colbert does bring experience on five special teams units to the table. He has played on both punt and kickoff return squads, was used on the two coverage units as well, and also has received snaps as an edge rusher on field goal and extra point blocking teams. The kicking game might very well be his path onto New England’s roster.

Does he have positional versatility? His ability to fill multiple roles on special teams can be valuable, but Colbert only has limited versatility beyond the kicking game. He was occasionally moved to the box safety and cornerback spots throughout his career, but seems to lack the positional flexibility that the other safeties on New England’s current roster possess: playing under former Patriots assistant Brian Flores in 2019, the vast majority of his snaps — 92.8 percent — came at the free safety position.

What is his salary cap situation? Colbert signed a one-year contract with the Patriots last month, but he is currently not counting against the salary cap under the NFL’s Top-51 rule. There is more to be considered, however. His deal also qualifies for the veteran salary benefit, which means that while he does have a $990,000 salary the pact itself will count only $850,000 against the team’s books — and that will only happen if he makes the 53-man roster in September.

What is his roster outlook? Even with Patrick Chung announcing his retirement earlier this offseason, the Patriots have a deep group of safeties led by the trio mentioned above: Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips project as the three starting options at the position. It remains to be seen how many spots will be open on the roster behind them, but Colbert might not just have to beat out rookie Joshuah Bledsoe but also versatile cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Myles Bryant as well as core special teamers Cody Davis and Brandon King. Needless to say that he will need to bring his A-game to make it happen and possibly find a permanent home after moving around the league the last two years.