With training camp set to be kicked off later this week, the New England Patriots are 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 are taking 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 interior offensive lineman James Ferentz.
Name: James Ferentz
Jersey number: 65
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? After a five-year college career at the University of Iowa under his father, Kirk, Ferentz joined the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted free agent pickup by the Houston Texans. He spent his entire rookie campaign on the Texans’ practice squad before being claimed off waivers by the Denver Broncos ahead of the 2015 season opener. Over the next two years, Ferentz appeared in 22 games for his new club as a reserve interior offensive lineman — earning a Super Bowl ring along the way.
The Broncos decided to part ways with Ferentz after the 2017 draft, however, paving the way for him to join the Patriots. After spending his first year in New England on the practice squad, Ferentz saw increased action over the next three seasons as a backup option at the center and guard positions. As such, he appeared in a combined 25 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots and earned the first four starts of his NFL career. As he did in Denver, Ferentz also won a Super Bowl with the club.
What did his 2020 season look like? Despite serving as the Patriots’ number two center in 2019 and starting two games in place of an injured Ted Karras, Ferentz saw little action as an unrestricted free agent in the spring and summer of 2020. He was invited to a workout by the Miami Dolphins in early September, but had to wait until later that month to finally sign another NFL contract: Ferentz returned to New England on a practice squad contract to offer experienced depth along an injury-riddled interior O-line.
He remained on the practice squad for 10 days before being promoted to the active roster again. With starting center David Andrews being moved to injured reserve because of a thumb injury, Ferentz was elevated to start New England’s Week 4 contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. While he would return to a backup position afterwards again, Ferentz did finish the season with seven total in-game appearances — including starts against the Chiefs and later in the season finale versus the New York Jets.
All in all, the veteran lineman was on the field for 161 of a possible 1,011 offensive snaps (15.9%) and gave up two quarterback pressures. He also saw semi-regular action in the kicking game: Ferentz played 19 snaps (of 397; 4.8%) as part of the Patriots’ field goal and extra point protection units. As was the case during his previous three years with the club, however, he was mainly used as experienced depth and played the role of a “break glass in case of emergency”-type player.
Still, Ferentz’s seventh season in the league was again a solid one given his general career trajectory. That said, not all was positive: he was among the eleven Patriots to be placed on the NFL’s new Reserve/Covid-19 list after testing positive in mid-October. Ferentz spent a total of twelve days on the reserve list before returning later that same month. He did play six of his seven games in 2020 after his stint on the Coronavirus list, though, not appearing to be impacted too much by the diagnosis.
What is his projected role? The fact that he has started only four combined games over the course of his seven-year career in the NFL tells you all you need to know about Ferentz’s status heading into 2021: he is a backup player and should not be expected to suddenly develop into a starting-caliber lineman. As he has done for the last four seasons, though, he will continue to offer experience along all three interior spots. That said, he will only see any game action in case of injuries higher up on the depth chart.
What is his special teams value? Offensive linemen generally have only limited value in the kicking game, and Ferentz is not an exception. That being said, he still has a combined 152 special teams snaps on his career résumé. While a majority of them — 78.3 percent, to be exact — came as a protector on field goal and extra point kicking teams, he also was used occasionally on kickoff and punt return units during his time in Denver. That said, it would a surprise if New England employed him in such a fashion based on his last four years in the organization.
Does he have positional versatility? Ferentz has seen game action at all three interior offensive line spots since arriving in New England in 2017, and his versatility in combination with experience is one of his best traits. While the Patriots will keep him around based on this, he offers additional positional flexibility as well: Ferentz also lined up in an in-line tight end spot earlier during his career, and even has played eight snaps as a fullback — including one during his 2019 season in New England.
What is his salary cap situation? After what was a quiet free agency period for him, Ferentz re-joined the Patriots on a one-year contract in mid-May. According to Miguel Benzan, he carries a $990,000 salary of which $140,000 are treated as a benefit. Furthermore, he has received a $30,000 signing bonus as well as $100,000 in salary guarantees. As a result of this structure, Ferentz is currently counting only $30,000 against the Patriots’ salary cap under the NFL’s Top-51 rule. The non-benefit portion of his salary (i.e. $850,000) will be added to the equation in case he makes the 53-man roster.
What is his roster outlook? Ferentz is in the same basic position he was in throughout his career in New England. He is not guaranteed a spot on the roster despite his versatility and experience, and will therefore have to beat out the other interior offensive lineman on the roster to earn the number five spot behind starters David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu, as well as top backup Ted Karras.Ferentz will have to beat out Korey Cunningham, William Sherman, Marcus Martin, Alex Redmond and R.J Price for that fifth spot, and simultaneously convince the Patriots’ coaching staff to even go five-deep along the interior of the line. If not, he appears to be a practice squad candidate.