With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, 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 long snapper Joe Cardona.
Name: Joe Cardona
Position: Long snapper
Jersey number: 49
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-2, 245 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Following a four-year career at the Naval Academy, Cardona heard his name called in the fifth round of the 2015 draft when the Patriots invested the 166th overall selection in him — the second highest draft choice ever spent on a pure long snapper. The investment was a good one from New England’s perspective, though: ever since joining the club, Cardona has served as its undisputed long snapper and proved himself a reliable presence among the team’s specialists.
Despite having to do double-duty as a member of both the Patriots and the Navy reserve, Cardona did not miss a single game over his five years in the NFL. All in all, he has appeared in 96 regular season contests as well as 12 playoff games since arriving in New England and has helped the team win two Super Bowls. Along the way, Cardona snapped the football a combined 1,002 times on field goals and extra point attempts as well as on punt plays. During the 2018 offseason, he signed a four-year, $4.31 million contract extension.
What did his 2020 season look like? Even though the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time since Cardona’s arrival back in 2015, the 2020 season was another successful individual campaign for him. He appeared in all 16 of the team’s games and finished with a playing time share of 30.6 percent, being on the field for 122 of a possible 399 kicking game snaps. The former fifth-round draft pick lined up at the de facto center position to snap the football every single time he took the field.
As was the case throughout his career in the NFL, Cardona was once again a rather accurate long snapper and proved himself a steady presence on what was arguably the best special teams unit in all of football. He helped place kicker Nick Folk to make 56 of a combined 61 possible field goal and extra point attempts — his success rate of 91.8 percent ranked him ninth in the league. His snaps also gave punter Jake Bailey enough time to deliver a first-team All-Pro performance and lead the league in net punting yards (45.6).
Cardona was once again as consistent a player as any on New England’s roster. While he was listed as questionable due to an ankle injury ahead of the final two games of the season, he did not miss any playing time; he also was able to prepare for his sixth season in the league despite being an active reservist in the Navy. Accordingly, he has to fulfill minimum service requirements. While the Coronavirus pandemic altered this process a bit, Cardona maintained his readiness for both the Navy and the Patriots.
What is his projected role? When the Patriots invested a fifth-round draft choice in Cardona six years ago there was no doubt about what his role would be. He was brought aboard to snap the football, which is what he has done ever since and will continue to do throughout his career. Cardona has proven himself a pretty good player in this area, and even though New England briefly brought some competition in earlier this year — Wes Farnsworth — there is no question about who is the top and only option on the team’s roster.
What is his special teams value? Cardona’s special teams value lies in his role as a long snapper on three of the Patriots’ kicking teams: he serves on the punt coverage unit in a dual role as snapper and defender — Cardona has 13 tackles on his career résumé so far — and also is a vital part of New England’s field goal and extra point operations. Add it all up and you get a player who is on the field for around one third of special teams snaps any given week.
Does he have positional versatility? No matter if preseason, regular season or playoffs, the Patriots have used Cardona in only one role since they drafted him: long snapper. While other players at the position have some experience working along the offensive line as well (or elsewhere, like former linebacker Rob Ninkovich), New England has never considered the 29-year-old in such a role and will therefore continue to employ him exclusively on special teams.
What is his salary cap situation? As part of the four-year contract extension he signed with the Patriots in 2018, Cardona in on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $1.18 million this year — seventh highest in the NFL at the long snapper position and therefore good value for a player of his experience and proven quality. While the guarantees in his deal are limited to his $130,000 signing bonus proration, New England will not move on from its long-time long snapper.
What is his roster outlook? Given his contract, in combination with his previous success and experience — let alone the lack of any competition after Wes Farnsworth’s release last month — Cardona is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this year. The main question entering the 2021 season is whether or not he and his two companions, place kicker Nick Folk and punter Jake Bailey, will continue to be one of the most steady specialist trios in football. Based on last year’s performance, it would not be any surprise whatsoever.