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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Trade acquisition Shaun Wade offers intriguing upside and versatility

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: DT Bill Murray

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 81 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 back Shaun Wade.

Hard facts

Name: Shaun Wade

Position: Cornerback/Safety

Jersey number: TBD

Opening day age: 22

Size: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Wade entered the NFL earlier this year as a fifth-round draft selection by the Baltimore Ravens. He participated in the team’s rookie minicamp and offseason workout program, and also saw action in training camp and during preseason; he played 35 snaps over the Ravens’ two exhibition games so far. All in all, however, his experience at the pro level is limited given that he joined it just four months ago. That said, he has plenty of competitive football on his résumé from his time in college.

Spending four seasons at Ohio State, Wade appeared in a combine 35 games. The former five-star recruit was forced to redshirt during his rookie season because of an abdominal injury, but he made an impact on the Buckeyes defense the moment he stepped onto the field. Wade played some strong football as a slot cornerback in 2018 and 2019, before a drop-off in performance during his 2020 campaign. Still, Wade finished his career in Columbus with 6 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 2 sacks.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a 2019 campaign that saw him earn third-team All-Big Ten honors, Wade entered his redshirt junior season at Ohio State with plenty of momentum on his side and as a player viewed as a potential future first-round draft pick. However, he failed to live up to the standard he had set the previous two years: while he appeared in all eight of the Buckeyes’ games with seven starts, he struggled mightily after being moved from the inside to the perimeter cornerback position.

Along the way, Wade became the only FBS player to allow 30-plus completions, 500-plus receiving yards and six-plus touchdowns in 2020: he surrendered 39 receptions on 61 targets, with opponents gaining 563 yards when targeting him; Wade also gave up 7 touchdown catches. While the turf toe injury he dealt with throughout the season may have played a role in his performance — he later underwent surgery to repair the issue — he also struggled to play a consistent technique and oftentimes appeared to be too aggressive.

Wade also had some positive moments, though. He registered a pair of interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — as well as 6 pass breakups, again looked strong as a tackler in run support, and was voted a captain ahead of the season. He also was named first-team All-American and All-Big Ten and earned the conference’s Defensive Back of the Year trophy. However, all those accolades did not change the fact that his 2020 season was a disappointment compared to how he performed the previous two years.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? Given his arrival this late in the process, the fact that the Patriots appear set at the starter positions throughout their secondary, and his lack of experience, the expectation is that Wade will play a rotational role in New England. Where exactly he will line up remains to be seen considering that he has experience at multiple positions. However, his athleticism and positional flexibility suggest that the team might use him in a versatile backup role with an initial focus on the slot and box alignments.

What is his special teams value? Wade has considerable experience in the kicking game, including a blocked punt during his redshirt freshman campaign in 2018. The Ravens also used him on three different special teams units during his first two preseason games: he saw action on the punt (7 snaps) and kickoff return squads (1) as well as the kickoff coverage unit (5). New England will likely also employ him in the game’s third phase.

Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Wade has flexibility and experience to play multiple spots within the Patriots’ secondary. During his college career at Ohio State, he played in the slot (880 snaps) but was also moved to the perimeter (503), as well as box (137) and free safety (25) alignments. Baltimore used him primarily as an outside cornerback this summer, but given how New England uses its backup defensive backs he should be expected to wear more than just one hat.

What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots acquired Wade via trade, they also picked up his rookie contract. However, as is the case with every other trade, his signing bonus proration — worth $79,391 per season — did not transfer from his old club to his new one. That means that there are no guarantees left in his pact and that his base salaries are also his cap numbers for each of the four seasons of the deal. As far as the 2021 season is concerned, Wade will have a cap number of $660,000. That number does currently not qualify for Top-51 status and will only be counted versus the team’s cap if he makes the 53-man roster.

What is his roster outlook? The Patriots traded two draft picks to Baltimore to acquire Wade — a 2022 seventh-rounder and a 2023 fifth-rounder — which are apparently not tied to any conditions. Accordingly, he should be expected to make the 53-man squad as a reserve at both the cornerback and the safety positions. His outlook for 2021 and beyond are uncertain, but if New England can take advantage of his intriguing upside and versatility they should have been able to get a possible future contributor for a minimal investment.