With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 87 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 tight end Troy Fumagalli.
Name: Troy Fumagalli
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 88
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? Fumagalli entered the 2018 NFL Draft coming off his best college season and as the reigning Offensive MVP at the Cotton Bowl, but he still had to wait until the fifth round to hear his name called. The Wisconsin product was picked up 156th overall by the Denver Broncos, with whom he would spent the majority of his time as a professional so far: with the exception of a short stint with the Houston Texans in 2020, he was a Bronco all the way before arriving in New England earlier this offseason.
All in all, Fumagalli has appeared in 19 combined games for the club and caught 14 passes for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While his production and experience at the NFL level is comparatively limited given that he is already entering his fourth season, he does have plenty of competitive football on his résumé from his time at Wisconsin: in four seasons with the Badgers, Fumagalli saw action in 52 games and finished with 135 catches for a total of 1,627 receiving yards as well as 7 touchdowns.
What did his 2020 season look like? Fumagalli had a serviceable 2019 season — playing in 11 games he caught 6 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown — but 2020 proved to be a challenge for him at first. Not only was he forced to prepare remotely during the offseason due to the NFL’s Coronavirus protocols, he also missed time in training camp due to an illness and later had to undergo abdominal surgery because of a bacterial infection that developed in suture from a previous procedure.
The Broncos eventually waived Fumagalli in early September with an injury designation, and he reverted to their injured reserve list after going unclaimed. He only spent three days there, however, before being released with a settlement. One week later, he joined the Houston Texans via their practice squad. Fumagalli’s stint in Houston was an uneventful one, however: he remained on the team’s developmental roster for seven weeks but in the process was not once elevated to the game-day squad.
He eventually was released in late October, returning to Denver’s practice squad a short time later. Fumagalli went on to have a solid second stint with the Broncos. He was a game-day elevation on four different occasions before being signed to the active roster for good in mid-December. In total, he appeared in eight games for the club and played 135 snaps on offense and 47 more in the kicking game. Fumagalli finished the 2020 season with 8 receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
What is his projected role? Fumagalli is a traditional in-line tight end, who has value as a blocker but also can help out in the passing game if need be. In this role, he projects as a depth option on New England’s current position depth chart: Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are undisputed as the starters at tight end, with Fumagalli competing for a rotational backup spot behind them in training camp and preseason. He also can help out on special teams if need be.
What is his special teams value? Fumagalli has a total of 147 kicking game snaps on his career résumé, and the Patriots are also giving him chances this summer to prove his value in the game’s third phase. In the preseason opener against the Washington Football Team, he was on the field for 13 of a possible 27 snaps — fourth most on the team. New England’s coaching staff used him on four different units: he played on the kickoff and punt return squads, was part of the punt coverage team, and also saw action on the field goal/extra point protection crew. He also returned one kickoff during his freshman year at Wyoming.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots used Fumagalli exclusively at an in-line position and in the slot versus Washington, but his theoretical versatility extends beyond those alignments. Back in Denver, he also saw some time in the backfield as a fullback and was also moved out wide on occasion. He will not be confused with a player like Jonnu Smith, who can play all these positions at an elite level, but he has shown that he is a flexible option if asked to fill more than one role.
What is his salary cap situation? Fumagalli remained unsigned for more than two months after his contract with the Broncos expired in mid-March. When he eventually found a new team, he signed a minimum-level contract: the 26-year-old, who joined the Patriots during their organized team activities, is playing on a one-year deal with a base salary of $850,000 and no guarantees or additional bonus money. He is therefore currently not counting against the NFL’s Top-51 rule and will only have a “real” impact on New England’s salary cap if he ends up making the 53-man roster.
What is his roster outlook? The Patriots have suffered some injuries higher up on the tight end depth chart this summer, and Fumagalli could be one of the benefits of this situation: Jonnu Smith (ankle) and Hunter Henry (shoulder) are dealing with short-term issues, with Matt LaCosse recently getting knocked out of practice; Dalton Keene is already out for the season on injured reserve. At the moment, Fumagalli and Devin Asiasi — relatively fresh off a stint on the Covid-19 reserve list — are therefore the only healthy tight ends on the New England roster. That does not guarantee he will make the team, and he still appears to be a long-shot, but the fourth-year man has a golden opportunity to at least make a case for the practice squad.