With training camp underway, 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 Ted Karras.
Name: Ted Karras
Jersey number: 67
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Karras originally joined the Patriots as a sixth-round selection in the NFL’s 2016 draft. Despite his draft status, the Illinois product was able to make the team as a rookie and even was pressed into action as a starter in his first ever regular season game: Karras played the 2016 season opener at right guard in place of an injured Shaq Mason. Stepping in for injured starters was Karras’ M.O. during his first four years in New England: while never holding a nominal starting spot, he still started 21 games for the club.
The final 16 of those came in 2019, when he replaced number one center David Andrews following his season-ending blood clots diagnosis. Karras looked solid in this capacity and after the season had the opportunity to return to New England on a new contract. However, he instead decided to take his talents elsewhere to compete for a starting gig. The Miami Dolphins signed him to a one-year deal and he went on to start all 16 of their games during the 2020 campaign to bring his career total to 37.
What did his 2020 season look like? Successfully filling in for David Andrews during the 2019 season made Karras a popular player heading into unrestricted free agency. The Patriots did try to bring him back on a two-year offer, but he instead opted to join the Dolphins via a one-year, $3 million pact. The reason behind his decision was rather simple: while he would have returned to reserve status in New England with Andrews back in the fold, Karras had the opportunity to become a starter in Miami.
He did just that and, as noted above, went on to start all 16 of the Dolphins’ games during the 2020 season. Karras proved himself a reliable player at the heart the team’s new-look offensive line and he went on to play 100 percent of its snaps: the fifth-year man was on the field for all 1,067 offensive snaps and played a pivotal role in helping Miami improve from 5-11 the year before to a 10-6 record in 2020. Karras, after all, was not just a durable presence on the team but also one of its leaders.
Getting voted a team captain despite only having arrived a few months earlier, he was a veteran leader and mentor on an offensive line that started three rookies at times. Of course, however, leadership was only one aspect of what Karras brought to the table. He also was steady again as both a run blocker and a pass protector, finishing the season having given up just seven combined quarterback disruptions: he allowed one sack and one hit each, and surrendered five additional hurries.
All in all, the 2020 season was a successful one for Karras even though he missed out on participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career. However, he set himself up well for another trip to unrestricted free agency — one that ultimately resulted not in him returning to Miami, but rather to go back to the team that gave him his start at the NFL level.
What is his projected role? While Karras has plenty of starting experience from his last two seasons, the expectation is that he will serve as a high-end backup along the interior offensive line this season. The 28-year-old has experience lining up all over the formation, after all, and as such could be a valuable member of New England’s offensive line behind projected starters David Andrews and center and Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason at guard.
What is his special teams value? Like most offensive linemen, Karras’ special teams value is limited simply due to the position he plays and the athletic profile it demands. That said, he has repeatedly been used as a protector on field goal and extra point kicks in the past. Last season, for example, he was on the field for 76 of a possible 453 snaps (16.8%) in this capacity for the Dolphins. He could very well resume this role in New England regardless of his spot on the center depth chart.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots want their interior offensive linemen to be able to play more than just one role, and Karras is more than capable of doing just that. While the majority of his 37 career starts came at the center position, he also has experience playing the two guard spots. Even if he is not projected to earn a starting role in 2021, he would serve as a versatile backup for all three spots and be inserted into the lineup in case of injury higher up on the depth chart.
What is his salary cap situation? Karras returned to the Patriots on a one-year contract earlier this offseason, and the team gave him a pretty good deal for a player projected to serve primarily as a backup. He will play on a fully-guaranteed base salary of $1 million and also has received a $2 million signing bonus for a combined salary cap hit of $3 million. Karras can also earn up to $1 million in additional incentives that were classified as not likely to be earned and are therefore not counting versus New England’s cap for the 2021 season.
What is his roster outlook? Given his contract structure and experience in the Patriots’ system, Karras should be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster this year. While he will ideally only see a handful of snaps during the season, the nature of the offensive line is a physically taxing one and as such it would not be a surprise if Karras ended up in a starting spot at least at some point during the season. Having a player of his quality and proven abilities in the NFL as a reserve is a positive for the Patriots even at what is a rather steep price.