With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 80 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 defensive tackle Bill Murray.
Name: Bill Murray
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 97
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-3, 295 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Murray originally arrived in the NFL back in 2020, when the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent shortly after he went unselected in the draft. He went on to spend his entire first season as a pro on the team’s practice squad, not seeing any in-game action. But while his experience at the NFL level is therefore limited to behind-the-scenes and practice work, the youngster has played a lot of football during his five-year career at William & Mary between 2015 and 2019.
Murray had a quiet start to his college career, redshirting during his first season with the Tribe and serving only in a rotational role in 2016. By his sophomore year, however though, he had been able to earn a starting job along the defensive line and never looked back. Murray thus went on to finish his time at the school with 40 in-game appearances as well as 19 sacks from his defensive tackle position. He also blocked an impressive 10 kicks in four seasons and was named second team All-CAA in both 2018 and 2019.
What did his 2020 season look like? Despite an impressive senior campaign at William & Mary that saw him get named to the All-CAA team for a second year in a row, Murray flew under the radar entering the draft. He eventually went undrafted, and had to go the free agency route. The Patriots eventually picked him up on the open market, and they made him their second-highest compensated UDFA that year: Murray received $125,000 in contractual guarantees, including a $10,000 signing bonus.
Nonetheless, he entered a difficult situation in New England. With the Coronavirus pandemic forcing teams to move their offseason preparation to a virtual forum, and with no preseason games being played, Murray had limited opportunities to showcase his talents. His release as part of the Patriots’ roster cutdowns was therefore no surprise. However, the team decided to keep him around by signing him to its practice squad. Murray went on to spend the entire 2020 season on New England’s developmental roster.
What is his projected role? Murray was primarily used as a defensive tackle in college and he reprised that role after arriving in New England. While he did not see any in-game action as a rookie, his first ever preseason snaps this year have seen him move between various alignments — most prominently on the nose or either the 1- or 3-technique spots. He projects to offer depth behind the Patriots’ starter-level defensive tackles. His upside appears to come primarily as a sub-package pass rusher who will receive only limited run-game looks.
What is his special teams value? Through two preseason games as a Patriot, Murray has played 12 snaps in the kicking game. He was used not just on the field goal and extra point blocking teams as his defensive role would suggest, but also saw action on the two kickoff squads: he played on both the kick coverage (8 snaps) and kick return teams (1) besides being used as a pressure player on place kicks (3). His special teams role is rather versatile for an interior defensive lineman.
Does he have positional versatility? While his lack of outstanding athletic traits might limit his overall success and usage at the next level, the Patriots seem willing to give Murray plenty of opportunities this preseason. Not only was he used on three special teams units, he also regularly moved between alignments along the defensive line. Primarily an interior player, Murray also played edge on a few select snaps. New England’s coaches apparently trust him to wear multiple hats in their hybrid front.
What is his salary cap situation? After their 2020 season came to an end, the Patriots decided to re-sign Murray to a one-year reserve/futures pact. That deal has a pretty straight-forward structure: his $660,000 base salary also equals his cap number. At the moment, however, Murray does not count against New England’s books under the league’s Top-51 rule. He will only hit the cap if he makes the 53-man roster.
What is his roster outlook? Murray has seen some prominent action so far this preseason — he was on the field for 60 snaps between defense and special teams — and has had plenty of success as a pass rusher. However, the Patriots are very deep along their interior D-line and there does not appear to be a spot on the roster for the 24-year-old. Instead, Murray appears to be a realistic candidate to be released on cutdown day and added to the practice squad yet again if he clears waivers.