With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 86 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 outside linebacker Tashawn Bower.
Name: Tashawn Bower
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 96
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? Even though he appeared in 40 games during his career at LSU, Bower’s rotational role prevented him from hearing his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. Instead, he had to go through free agency to find a home in the pros. Find one he did, however, when the Minnesota Vikings picked him up — and not just that: despite his contractual status, the rookie impressed during his first training camp and preseason and made the team’s 53-man roster in his first year.
Seeing some rotational action on defense and special teams, Bower went on to appear in two games during the 2017 season before playing in five the subsequent year. He also registered one sack along the way, but suffered a setback when he hurt his Achilles while preparing for his third year in the league. The injury eventually led the Vikings to part ways with the former Tiger in 2019, which allowed him to join the Patriots. So far, he has appeared in seven games since arriving in New England.
What did his 2020 season look like? Bower ended his tumultuous 2019 campaign on the Patriots’ practice squad, and without any in-game appearances. However, the team opted to re-signed him to a one-year reserve/futures pact in January that would give him another chance to prove himself worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. However, the Coronavirus pandemic changed his outlook: with offseason workouts and preseason football getting canceled by the NFL, Bower failed to survive cutdown day.
Despite releasing him, however, the Patriots did keep him around via their practice squad. Bower spent the first eight weeks of the season there, but along the way was elevated to the game day team on two separate occasions. He reverted back to the practice squad after both contests before eventually being signed to the active roster in early November. Bower remained on New England’s 53-man squad until late December, when the team moved him to its injured reserve list due to an ankle injury.
In total, the fourth-year outside linebacker appeared in seven games for New England during the 2020 season. He was on the field for a combined 137 defensive snaps (of 1,017; 13.5%) and 25 more on special teams (of 399; 6.3%). Bower also registered 10 tackles versus the run as well as four quarterback disruptions. But while he did receive somewhat regular playing time over the second half of the season, his play was uneven — he missed five tackle attempts, for example — and thus contributed to New England’s issues up front.
What is his projected role? The Vikings used Bower as a rotational end on both sides of their 4-3 defense and had him align primarily from the 5-technique spot out. The Patriots employed him in a similar fashion after adding him to their hybrid front: Bower played as an outside linebacker and served as a package-specific pass rusher or an edge-setter in the running game. Based on his preseason performance the expectation is that he will play the same role for the team this year as well.
What is his special teams value? Bower has only 33 regular season snaps in the kicking game on his résumé, but that does not mean that his value in the game’s third phase is non-existent. After all, the Vikings regularly employed him as part of their special teams units during preseason while Bower also saw action on the punt and kickoff return teams as well as the field goal/extra point kicking and blocking units after his arrival in New England.
Does he have positional versatility? Bower’s ability to play on special teams is one part of his positional flexibility, but his role on the defensive side of the ball has been more clearly defined since he arrived in the NFL in 2017. He served primarily a defensive edge, lining up either in a three-point stance as an end or a two-point stance as an outside linebacker. The Patriots did also moved him to the interior of their line in select situations last year, though. More of the same should be expected heading into the 2021 season.
What is his salary cap situation? When Bower was signed to the Patriots’ active roster midway through his 2020 campaign, he effectively signed a two-year deal with the club. Entering the final season of this contract, he carries a salary cap number of $1.06 million. He is playing on a $920,000 salary and also will earn his fully-guaranteed $30,000 signing bonus proration. Bower furthermore has $106,471 worth of additional bonuses in his pact that are considered likely to be earned for cap purposes.
What is his roster outlook? With roster cutdowns looming, Bower appears to be find himself on the bubble. The Patriots, after all, have a deep edge linebacker group under contract: Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins are locks to make the team, with Chase Winovich also seemingly in a good position. Given the versatility of other players such as Dont’a Hightower and Anfernee Jennings, it would not be a surprise if Bower ultimately failed to make the cut. He has had some encouraging moments in preseason so far — he has registered a sack and three combined quarterback pressures — but there are only so many spots available.