With the offseason workout program in the books and training camp being kicked off later this month, 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 tight end David Wells.
Name: David Wells
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-6, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Coming off a college career at San Diego State, Wells did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2019 draft. He subsequently signed a rookie free agency pact with the Dallas Cowboys but was let go again after a preseason during which he appeared in two games and caught a pair of passes for a combined 11 yards. Wells went on to join the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad, where he spent the remainder of his rookie campaign before signing a futures contract after the season.
Wells’ sophomore year came to an end before it even began: he was waived with an injury designation during training camp and reverted to IR after going unclaimed. After the 2019 season, he did not return to Kansas City and remained on the open market until the Patriots picked him up via their practice squad last November. Wells returned to New England on Friday, trying to stay around and accomplish something he has not done during the first three seasons of his career: appear in a non-preseason contest.
What did his 2020 season look like? After spending the entire 2019 season on the Chiefs’ injured reserve list, Wells entered the offseason headed towards exclusive-rights free agency. That meant that there were only two possible roads ahead for him: either Kansas City offered him a tender to keep him in the fold, or he would hit the open market. The club opted for the second avenue, leaving Wells without a team at the start of free agency. It would take quite some time for him to find a new one again.
Receiving minimal interest as a free agent, Wells remained unsigned until deep into the regular season. However, he finally found a new club when he joined the Patriots’ practice squad in mid-November. Unfortunately for him, his stint with the team did not last long: New England parted ways with the journeyman after only one week and no in-game appearances. Wells’ 2020 season — his third in the league — therefore ended how it had started; with him a free agent and unable to find a new team.
What is his projected role? Wells’ size and his previous usage in the NFL suggests that the Patriots will employ him as a classic in-line tight end. That means that he will align both on the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder but also move to the slot and the perimeter on occasion. In this role, Wells projects as a backup option at best: New England already features two bona fide tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry; two players capable of playing a similar role albeit with considerably more upside.
What is his special teams value? Like most roster bubble players Wells will also have to carve out a role in the kicking game in order to make the Patriots’ roster or practice squad. What could that role look like? Not only could he serve as a protector on field goal and extra point plays, he also has experience on the two return units: the Cowboys employed him on their punt and kickoff return squads back during the 2018 preseason. He also saw considerable action on coverage teams back at San Diego State.
Does he have positional versatility? Wells may not be the most versatile member of New England’s current tight end room, but he does have some positional flexibility. As noted above, he can line up both in-line and in a receiver position — something he did during his lone two preseason games in the NFL: he played six in-line snaps for the Cowboys in 2018 and also was moved to the slot on seven occasions. Wells’ size also gives him a solid foundation as a blocker and potential red zone target.
What is his salary cap situation? While his full contract numbers are not yet known, anything but Wells signing a one-year deal for the veterans’ minimum of $660,000 would be a major surprise. He should therefore be expected to not count against New England’s salary cap under the Top-51 offseason rule. He’d only hit the books if he made either the active roster or practice squad, or is placed on the injured reserve list.
What is his roster outlook? He does have one week of prior experience in their system, but Wells’ NFL career so far suggests that he is facing some pretty long odds to make the Patriots’ roster. Add the fact that he only joined the club on Friday and will have to go up against some talented competition for the spots behind Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry — Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse, Troy Fumagalli — and he should not count on making the 53-man team or even the New England practice squad.