With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, 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 special teamer Brandon King.
Name: Brandon King
Position: Linebacker/Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? King’s path to the NFL was not an easy one: he converted from linebacker to safety, spent time at Highland Community College and Auburn, was not invited to the scouting combine, and did not hear his name called during the 2015 draft. He did eventually find a team, however, when the Patriots decided to sign him to a rookie free agent deal. And even though his career with the club started on its practice squad, King made his way to the active roster early during his first season as a pro.
He never looked back. Since arriving on New England’s 53-man squad in October 2015, King appeared in a combined 57 regular season contests and 11 playoff games for the team — helping the Patriots win two Super Bowls while simultaneously serving as a core member of their kicking game units. Before nagging injuries forced him to miss both the 2019 and the 2020 seasons, he regularly found himself among the team leaders in special teams tackles while appearing on both kick and punt coverage as well as the two return teams.
King did not see any action on defense along the way, however. Despite being listed as a linebacker and bringing experience as a defensive back to the table, King has not even played a single snap outside of special teams during his combined 68 regular and postseason appearances. He is a special teamer through and through.
What did his 2020 season look like? King already missed the entire 2019 campaign after tearing his quad during the Patriots’ third preseason contest and later being placed on season-ending injured reserve. His 2020 season did not start any better: New England placed him on the physically unable to perform list ahead of training camp, and a few days later changed his status from Active/PUP to Reserve/PUP — a change in status that meant that King would have to sit out at least the first six weeks of the regular season.
While he would have been eligible for reactivation as early as mid-October, King never actually made his way back onto the 53-man squad. The Patriots decided against bringing him back for the remainder of the season, meaning that he had to end a second consecutive year on the sidelines. But even with the long-time core special teamer absent, New England fielded arguably the best kicking game unit in the entire NFL.
What is his projected role? If King is able to return to full strength after missing back-to-back seasons, the 28-year-old should return to fill his usual role within New England’s kicking game group. He will be a four-unit presence on special teams, and one of the groups leaders alongside veterans Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Brandon Bolden. While being listed as a linebacker on New England’s roster, he is once again not projected to see any action on defense outside of the preseason.
What is his special teams value? Despite not seeing the field in two straight years, King is one of the most experienced kicking game players on New England’s roster: he has a total of 1,307 special teams snaps on his combined regular season and playoff résumé, and ranked second on the Patriots in this category between the 2015 and 2018 seasons. King, as noted above, is heavily used on both kickoff and punt coverage and also a member of the two return units. Furthermore, he has seen some occasional but inconsistent action on field goal and extra point block units.
Does he have positional versatility? While he can theoretically be seen as a defender capable of playing both the linebacker and the safety positions, King’s versatility is really just limited to the kicking game. In the game’s third phase, however, he has proven himself a multi-faceted contributor: during his last season with the club in 2018, he lined up all over the formation as a force player on kickoff returns, was used in a wedge role on punt returns, and also saw action in numerous protection and front-line spots on punt and kickoff coverage, respectively.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final year of the contract extension he signed with the Patriots in 2019, King is currently on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $1.37 million — a reasonable number for a player of his experience in the kicking game, and one that ranks in the lower third of the 51 players currently counting against the cap. While New England could theoretically clear $1.1 million off their books by releasing him, the net savings would be considerably lower with another player taking his spot on the list of the Top-51 contract currently counting against the cap.
What is his roster outlook? After having missed back-to-back seasons, the biggest factor when it comes to King’s roster outlook is his health. He did participate in the team’s offseason workout program, which is a positive sign, but it remains to be seen how he will look and feel once full contact is introduced to the process in training camp. With this variable impossible to predict, he cannot be seen as a roster lock just yet. If able to return to his pre-injury form, however, King making the cut and becoming a core special teamer yet again would not be a surprise.