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 91 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 offensive lineman R.J. Prince.
Name: R.J. Prince
Position: Guard/Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 63
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-6, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Despite having made a combined 23 starts at guard over the course of his junior and senior seasons at the University of North Carolina, Prince did not hear his name called during the 2018 NFL Draft. He instead entered the league as an undrafted free agent addition by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and went on to spend his entire rookie campaign on the team’s practice squad. He was signed to a futures pact after the season but eventually released five months later.
Prince went on to join the Baltimore Ravens and again spent virtually all of his tenure with the club on the developmental roster. He was elevated to the game day squad on two occasions over his two-year stint in Baltimore but has not yet seen any actual playing time in an NFL regular season or playoff game; his lone four in-game appearances in the league have come during his 2018 preseason with the Steelers. Prince arrived in New England earlier this offseason, following a successful minicamp tryout.
What did his 2020 season look like? Prince’s first season with the Ravens was a comparatively uneventful one — he spent all of it on the practice squad — but the organization still opted to retain him heading into 2020. He was signed to a reserve/futures contract in January, but did not get any real opportunity to compete for a spot on Baltimore’s roster again: Prince was released just ahead of training camp and eventually had to spend the next three months on the open market.
He remained unsigned following a visit with the Indianapolis Colts in August, but later was given another chance in Baltimore. The Ravens invited him for a workout and signed him to their practice squad six days later. He spent the remainder of the season on the developmental team and was even elevated to the game day roster twice, but he did not receive any in-game snaps. After the club’s season came to an end in January, it decided against retaining Prince and did not sign him to a futures pact.
What is his projected role? With the Patriots’ starting gigs filled at both guard and tackle, Prince is projected to compete for a backup spot at both positions. He does have far more experience on the interior, but he also offers the size and flexibility to help out on the edge if need be. As such, the 26-year-old will be competing not just for the fourth guard job behind Shaq Mason, Michael Onwenu and Ted Karras, but also for the swing tackle role to back up Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with most offensive linemen, Prince’s versatility in the kicking game is somewhat limited due to his size. That said, he can still be of value in the game’s third phase: Prince can help as an additional protector on field goal and extra point kicks, something he already did during his time at North Carolina and his lone four preseason contests with the Steelers as well.
Does he have positional versatility? Prince does offer some solid versatility, which could be the key to him making the Patriots’ roster or practice squad this year. He has lined up primarily at the guard position — playing on the left side with the Tar Heels and on the right side in Pittsburgh — but also received 26 snaps at right tackle as a rookie. If he can continue to prove himself a flexible player capable of backing up four different spots along the line, New England could decide to keep him aboard despite the odds not being in his favor.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots worked out Prince during their mandatory minicamp and later decided to add him to their 90-man offseason squad. They did that via a one-year contract with a base salary of $660,000 and no guarantees or bonuses. This low-level contract is reflective of his position on the depth chart, and also means that he currently does not count against New England’s salary cap under the NFL’s Top-51 rule.
What is his roster outlook? Prince is a three-year veteran in the NFL and has spent time in two of the league’s best offensive line rooms, but he still appears to have only an outside chance at making the team. The competition at guard — James Ferentz, Marcus Martin, Alex Redmond, Korey Cunningham, William Sherman — may be more favorable than at tackle, but unless he shows some concrete improvement or the injury bug bites the players ahead of him on the depth chart he appears to be a practice squad candidate at best.