As we come to the end of our positional preview series, it’s only right that we cap things off with the specialists. A group that has consistently anchored successful New England Patriots steams of the past, will anchor our series as training camp kicks off in just two days.
So let us jump right into our final preview and tell you exactly how THIS unit can provide stability to the next great Patriots squad.
ST Matthew Slater
Entering his 14th season in New England, time is winding down for the greatest special teamer in NFL history. The soon-to-be 11-time team captain will enter unrestricted free agency as a 37-year-old in 2022.
We all know what he means to New England both on and off the field, so perhaps just sit back and enjoy “The Honorable” Matthew Slater in what could very well be his swan song.
P Jake Bailey
Jake Bailey has represented the best of Bill Belichick’s team building strategy since his arrival to New England in 2019. Just 11 weeks after Ryan Allen’s superb Super Bowl efforts, the Patriots selected his replacement in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. The perfect representation of a consistent pursuit to get better, and better the Patriots got, as Bailey has gone on to become the first New England punter to be named to the AP All-Pro team since 1983.
There is simply no one better in the NFL than Jake Bailey. Just two years into his rookie contract the Patriots have some time to lock up the All-Pro for the foreseeable future, something they surely would like to do.
K Nick Folk
Nick Folk had a career resurgence in his age 36 season, knocking in 26 of his 28 field goal attempts, including a pair of game winners from 50+ yards out. He was everything you could ask for out of a late training camp addition.
Now he will need to back it up. As is to be expected from a team with a kicker entering his 14th professional season, the Patriots haven't been shy in keeping reinforcements around to push Folk and make sure he stays at the top of his game. He’ll spend this training camp in yet another position battle with Quinn Nordin.
LS Joe Cardona
America’s favorite long snapper is back for year number seven in New England. Making him the second longest tenured long snapper in Patriots history.
Under contract for just two more seasons Cardona may be in line for an extension. His leadership throughout the changes at the kicker and punter positions over the last few seasons were invaluable and the team will likely see another change made in the upcoming months.
ST Justin Bethel
The man who has sat in Matthew Slater’s shadow for many years got to team up with the GOAT two seasons ago and has never looked back. Bethel has led New England in special teams tackles over the last two seasons and is the perfect man to slide into the top role once Matthew Slater moves on.
Under contract for three more seasons, Bethel is set to see an expanded leadership role in the near future.
ST Cody Davis
Despite the fact that you rarely, if ever, here his name, Cody Davis was great in his first year with the Patriots. A core special teamer who essentially took over for Nate Ebner, Davis will likely keep that same role headed into 2021.
Depending on how the roster shakes out, he could even see an expanded role on defense with the departure of Terrence Brooks.
ST Brandon King
The forgotten man in the specialist equation, Brandon King is hoping to make his return after two straight seasons on the shelf.
A core special teamer throughout his first four seasons in New England, King played in 68 games between 2015 and 2018. His eventual quad tear was said to have come after playing through several smaller leg injuries that progressively worsened.
When he has seen the field, King has been one of the most reliable special teams players on the roster, playing every coverage snap possible in 2016. A two-year hiatus and the recent additions of Bethel and Davis to the team may make King’s climb to a roster spot tougher than in past seasons, but you can never count out the possibility of Bill Belichick keeping him on for another go around.
K Quinn Nordin
The Patriots lone undrafted free agent in 2021, Quinn Nordin has the makings of a rally nice find for Belichick and co. The strong legged kicker out of Michigan struggled with consistency throughout his career with the Wolverines, but certainly has the talent to make a push for a roster spot.
Folk will compete with a 36-year-old Nick Folk in training camp. If talent were the barometer to make a football team, Nordin would already have his roster spot locked up. Finding a way to showcase consistency is what camp will be about for Nordin. It should be a fun competition.
What does the future look like at kicker?
The answer to this question relies solely on what Quinn Nordin brings to the table during camp. If he can win the job outright, the Patriots will be in a good spot with a rookie undrafted free agent under contract for the next three seasons.
If Nick Folk wins the job, the Patriots will stay on the hunt for a long term option at the position as no team likes to rely on an aging veteran with a substantial injury history.
The answer to this question will be a lot easier to find following training camp.
What does the future look like at punter?
As bright as could be.
The Patriots have a bit of a Patrick Mahomes situation on their hands at the punter position, where Jake Bailey emerged as the leagues best in just his second season. He had solidified a large portion of the Patriots special teams unit, something that likely makes Bill Belichick very happy.
The only negative that comes from Bailey’s level of play in the eventual contract New England will have to dole out. Not a bad problem to have.
What will the Patriots do when Matthew Slater retires?
First and foremost the Patriots will need to realize that there is no “replacing” Matthew Slater. You don’t just go out and add the greatest special teamer in the history of football to your roster. What you can do is try to replicate his best attributes.
That is much easier said than done, but not impossible. In recent seasons the Patriots have added to their strong core of special teams only players. Davis, Bethel, and King are just some of the guys who have stuck. Keeping a solid roster of players who can contribute in all specialist units could help the Patriots when Slater eventually moves on.