With the third phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 89 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 continues with safety and special teamer Cody Davis.
Name: Cody Davis
Position: Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 22
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Davis started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent signing by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. While his defensive playing time was limited early on in his career, he immediately carved out a spot in the kicking game. During his five years with the organization, his role evolved and he eventually was a regular on five of the Rams’ special teams units between 2015 and 2017 — all while also seeing increased action as a rotational safety during his final two years with the club, playing over 500 snaps on defense.
After appearing in a combined 66 regular season and playoff games for the team, Davis joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent in 2018. At that point, his usage began to change a bit: he was no longer used prominently on the defensive side of the ball, but remained a core special teamer. Overall, he was on the field for 32 games as a Jaguar, playing a combined 745 of a possible 866 special teams snaps in 2018 and 2019 (86%). Davis also registered 18 kicking game tackles and one block during his time in Jacksonville.
In 2020, Davis eventually joined the Patriots on a one-year free agent deal. New England opted to employ the veteran similarly to how the Jaguars used him: he was a core special teamer who had no impact whatsoever on the defensive side of the ball.
What did his 2020 season look like? Shortly after his contract in Jacksonville expired, Davis joined the Patriots on a one-year pact valued at $1.5 million. The deal itself did not guarantee the veteran a spot on the roster, but it did allow him to compete for playing time on a special teams unit that had lost Nate Ebner as an unrestricted free agent just a few days prior. Davis was eventually able to not just make the team, but also to carve out a prominent role as a key member of the kicking game unit.
As such, he appeared in 13 of a possible 16 games and saw action on five special teams units: Davis was employed both on the kickoff return and coverage units as well as the two punt teams — including in Ebner’s old role of personal protector for All-Pro punter Jake Bailey. Furthermore, he also saw regular snaps as a member of New England’s field goal and extra point blocking units. Despite missing three games on injured reserve due to a rib ailment, Davis still finished third on the team in kicking game snaps (256 of 397; 64.5%).
Davis did not just receive plenty of opportunities in the game’s third phase, he also made a major impact on one of the NFL’s top special teams groups. Whether it was downfield blocking for another All-Pro, punt returner Gunner Olszewski, helping out in coverage by registering nine tackles, or pressuring opposing punters, the then-31-year-old did it all. His biggest play, however, came as a field goal blocker: in Week 13, he blocked a Los Angeles Chargers attempt that was subsequently returned for a touchdown by Devin McCourty.
Even though the Patriots did not give him any opportunities at his listed position of safety, Davis had a highly productive first season with the team. New England needed to replace Nate Ebner after he left for the New York Giants, and they did just that by bringing Davis aboard to take over his previous responsibilities. He therefore helped the team field arguably the best kicking game unit in the NFL — one that saw two players be named to the All-Pro team (Gunner Olszewski, Jake Bailey).
What is his projected role? Even though Davis offers considerable experience for an emergency safety, his primary role with the Patriots will again come in the kicking game. Davis is a five-unit special teams player: he has experience on punt and kickoff coverage teams, both return squads, and on place kick blocking units — all while moving over the different formations on a regular basis. Davis is also the designated personal protector for punter Jake Bailey.
What is his special teams value? Davis is one of the most experienced kick coverage players in football, and will again play a prominent role on a special teams unit led by fellow veterans Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden and Justin Bethel. As was the case in 2020, he will again be among the team leaders in kicking game snaps, while being used on all four kicking teams — kickoff coverage and return, punt coverage and return — as well as the field goal and extra point blocking squads.
Does he have positional versatility? As he showed during his first year as a Patriot in 2020, Davis offers the desired versatility to be heavily featured in the kicking game. On top of this, he also was used all over the defensive secondary during his time with the Rams: in 2017, his final season with the club, he played free safety (158 snaps), strong safety (94 snaps), slot cornerback (10 snaps) and perimeter cornerback (6 snaps). New England did not employ him this way last year, but he does have some experience playing the safety position and could possibly step in if push comes to shove.
What is his salary cap situation? Two days before the official start of free agency, the Patriots re-signed Davis to a two-year contract worth $4.2 million — a reasonable sum for a player of his experience and prowess in the game’s third phase. As part of this deal, Davis will have a salary cap hit of $1.93 million this year: his $1.1 million salary is fully guaranteed, while it also includes a $500,000 signing bonus proration as well as $325,000 worth of roster bonuses.
What is his roster outlook? Davis may not be a household name, but he is a lock to make New England’s 53-man roster this year simply due to the fact that he was brought back before free agency even started. Add his importance and past performances in the kicking game and you get a player that should again be a key member of New England’s special teams units. Davis is not going anywhere in 2021.