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 cornerback and special teamer Dee Virgin.
Name: Dee Virgin
Position: Cornerback/Special teamer
Jersey number: 38
Opening day age: 27
Size: 5-foot-11, 195 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? The West Alabama product — the same school that produced former Patriots Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler — originally entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted rookie signing by the Houston Texans. Virgin then spent his entire first season in the league on the team’s practice squad before being let go as part of 2018’s roster cutdown day. It did not take long for him to find a new home, though, as he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions.
Virgin spent the next three seasons in Detroit and appeared in a combined 21 regular season games along the way. Playing exclusively on special teams — all of his 439 career snaps so far have come in the kicking game — he registered 12 tackles as well as a forced fumble. Despite his solid production, however, he was let go by the Lions in 2020 and via a short stint with the Los Angeles Rams found his way to New England. Virgin has yet to appear in a game for the team, though.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a season in which he appeared in 15 games and led the Lions in special teams snaps, Virgin was tendered at the exclusive-rights free agent level before potentially hitting the open market. While this gave him another chance at establishing himself as a core kicking game presence, Virgin was unable to hold onto his job under new special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs. As a result, he was released on roster cutdown day in early September.
Virgin went unclaimed on waivers after his release and reverted to Detroit’s practice squad the following day. Despite his status, he did see action in two games: the Lions elevated Virgin to their game-day squad on two occasions — Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, Week 12 against the Houston Texans — and he played a combined 29 snaps on special teams. Virgin registered one tackle and reverted back to the practice squad after each contest. He ultimately was let go by the Lions in mid-December, this time for good.
Following a one-week stint on the Rams’ practice squad, he entered the open market again and found his way to New England. Virgin signed a two-year deal with the Patriots that effectively counted for one game — the regular season finale against the New York Jets — and the subsequent season. While he was on the team’s 53-man roster for that Week 17 matchup versus the Jets, Virgin was not named to the game-day squad and instead ended his rather disappointing 2020 season as a healthy scratch.
What is his projected role? With the exception of preseason, Virgin has yet to play even a single down on the defensive side of the ball. While it remains to be seen how the Patriots see him in their system, the belief is that they will also value his kicking game contributions more than his theoretical abilities at his listed position. As far as his fit and potential role at cornerback is concerned, Virgin projects as a depth/emergency option at the perimeter — a role he played for the Texans under Bill O’Brien and the Lions under Matt Patricia.
What is his special teams value? Even though he was used in only two games in 2020, Virgin has plenty of experience on special teams and is capable of playing on five units. He was used as a front-liner on the kickoff coverage and return squads, played gunner and vice roles on punt coverage and punt return, respectively, and also saw time as a flanker on field goal and extra point blocking teams. Long story short, Virgin can fill a multitude of roles in the game’s third phase.
Does he have positional versatility? Virgin has not just seen regular action on five special teams units throughout his career, he also was moved all over the formation on each one of them. As far as the kicking game is concerned, he therefore offers desirable positional flexibility. When it comes to his defensive contributions, meanwhile, his value is mostly that of an outside cornerback: he aligned on the perimeter on 88 percent of his defensive snaps during his three preseasons in the NFL.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the only full year of the contract he signed with the Patriots last December, Virgin carries a salary cap number of $940,000 that consists of a $920,000 salary, $15,000 workout bonus, and $5,000 signing bonus proration. Under the NFL’s Top-51 rule, that proration is the only number currently counting against New England’s books: Virgin’s salary is not high enough to qualify, meaning that he will only hit the cap once he makes the team, practice squad or is placed on injured reserve.
What is his roster outlook? Virgin is trying to follow some famous footsteps in New England, but unlike fellow West Alabama product Malcolm Butler will have to leave his mark on special teams first. Even if he is able to do that, however, he still needs to prove his value to the team overall against other cornerbacks: the team will only carry so many bodies in its secondary, and Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant and Michael Jackson have all shown more on the defensive side of the ball over their careers. With Justin Bethel also on the team and a lock to make the roster, Virgin will likely have to step up his defensive contributions to have a shot.