Even though they still have one preseason game left to play, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning the page towards the early regular season. Their training camp is officially in the books — it ended on Thursday with the final joint practice with the New York Giants — and the season opener versus the Miami Dolphins is only 15 days away.
Before the team will open its 2021 campaign against its AFC East rivals, however, it will have to trim its roster: while currently 80 players are under contract, only 53 of them will be able to survive cutdown day on August 31st. The others will be exposed to the waiver wire and either join other teams, become candidates for the practice squad, or enter the open market.
The cutdown deadline being only a few days away makes now a perfect time to analyze who is fighting for spots on the team this year and will be in the spotlight come Sunday’s final preseason game. Of course, we have also been taking a close-up look at the entire roster throughout all of spring and summer, so this is comparatively light reading.
Nevertheless, here are 80 thoughts on the 80 players who are currently under contract in New England — some of them locks to make the team, others on their way to the proverbial chopping block.
(Note: The order within each position group is not based on any projected depth charts but rather the good old alphabet)
Brian Hoyer: With Jarrett Stidham projected to stay on the physically unable to perform list into the regular season, Hoyer’s outlook is pretty clear. He is the Patriots’ current QB3, and as such not a lock to make the roster. However, he does have some value to the team due to his experience and mentor for both Mac Jones and Cam Newton.
Mac Jones: The Patriots’ first-round rookie has had an impressive training camp and has made it clear that he has all the tools to become the team’s quarterback of the future. Whether or not he also will be New England’s quarterback of the present remains to be seen, but the final preseason game will be another opportunity for him to showcase his talents. No matter what happens, the Patriots and their fans can feel good about Jones at this early stage in his career.
Cam Newton: As of right now, all signs still point towards Newton being the Patriots’ starting quarterback heading into the 2021 season. He consistently was the first man up in both practice and the two preseason games so far, and has been called the team’s starter by head coach Bill Belichick. His three-day absence due to an apparent “misunderstanding” of Covid-19 protocols has given Mac Jones a prominent opportunity, and the youngster did make the most out of it, but Newton earning the QB1 role come the regular season is still more probable than not.
Jarrett Stidham (PUP): Coming off a solid spring, Stidham appeared to compete against Hoyer for the third quarterback job behind Cam Newton and Mac Jones. However, shoulder and back issues forced him to undergo surgery. Stidham is currently on the active/PUP list, but his status is expected to be changed to “reserve” ahead of next week’s cutdowns. He would miss at least six regular season weeks if that happens.
Brandon Bolden: Bolden sat out both preseason contests and missed time during training camp due to an apparent injury, which makes his outlook unclear. However, his role in the kicking game in combination with Sony Michel’s recent departures makes it possible that the team keeps him around as a versatile and experienced depth option.
Damien Harris: With Sony Michel off to Los Angeles, the door is open for him to take over as the Patriots’ featured back — something Bill Belichick already spoke about early in training camp. Harris has looked good all summer and was used as New England’s RB1 throughout training camp and preseason. Coming off a strong 2020 season, he will be a prime candidate to play an even more prominent role for the team this year.
Jakob Johnson: The Patriots only have one fullback on the roster, and given their apparent offensive battle plan this season will not change this on cutdown day. Johnson should be expected to keep his role as a lead blocker and part-time receiver out of the backfield.
Rhamondre Stevenson: New England invested a fourth-round draft pick in Stevenson in this year’s draft and he immediately made his presence felt in preseason. This, in turn, has possibly contributed to the team moving on from Sony Michel via trade. With Michel gone, Stevenson took over the RB2 role behind Damien Harris in practice — a possible sign of things to come.
J.J. Taylor: Taylor’s versatility and elusiveness might help him make the team, especially with Sony Michel no longer part of the equation. The second-year man offers intriguing ability as a receiver and ball-carrier, and also appears to be a realistic candidate to serve as New England’s kickoff returner this season.
James White: A team captain and still one of the best receiving and up-tempo backs in football, White’s role is not expected to change this year. He will be on the field in obvious passing situations and serve as a safety blanket for either Cam Newton or Mac Jones. He also is a leader in the locker room and mentor for the younger backs under contract.
Nelson Agholor: Agholor did have some ups and downs this summer and missed some practice time due to an apparent injury, but he is going nowhere this season. The high-priced free agency acquisition was the best wide receiver early on in camp and projects to play a prominent role for New England’s passing offense this season — either as a perimeter target or a versatile slot option.
Kendrick Bourne: Another free agency addition, another roster lock. Bourne has been a reliable player ever since joining the team, and he should see his fair share of opportunities during the regular season. Whether it be in the slot or split out wide, he appears to fit into the system and has seemingly built some good chemistry with whoever is throwing him the football.
N’Keal Harry: The former first-round draft choice was in the middle of his best training camp to date when he suffered a shoulder injury in the second preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. The ailment will force him to miss additional time and makes him a candidate to be moved to temporary injured reserve after roster cutdowns.
Jakobi Meyers: Meyers may not have the same pedigree as other pass catchers on the Patriots’ current roster, but he has “WR1” written all over him. The third-year man, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019, was the team’s most consistent receiving option throughout the summer — a reliable target for both Cam Newton and Mac Jones. His role will not change heading into the regular season.
Tre Nixon: Ernie Adams’ final draft pick as a member of the Patriots, Nixon missed six practices before returning to the field on Thursday. He has potential but his chances of making the roster appear slim given the competition ahead of him on the depth chart.
Gunner Olszewski: Olszewski is making strides as a pass catcher but his biggest contributions to the team might again come in the kicking game. The reigning All-Pro punt returner, Olszewski has proven himself a productive player in the game’s third phase. He may not be a lock to make the roster, but the odds are in his favor.
Matthew Slater: Slater will turn 36 before the start of the regular season and his future is very much in question entering the final year of his contract. However, he is not going anywhere: he is still an integral member of the Patriots organization both as a core special teamer and a locker room leader.
Kristian Wilkerson: Even though Wilkerson had some solid moments early in training camp and appeared to challenge N’Keal Harry’s standing on the roster, his recent consistency issues have significantly slowed down the hype train. Even with Harry out, he is far from a safe bet to make the team.
Isaiah Zuber: Joining the Patriots last year alongside Kristian Wilkerson, Zuber showed more promise during the regular season. This summer, however, he appears to be behind his fellow second-year man. Him making the roster would be a surprise at this point, but the practice squad appears to be an option.
Devin Asiasi: Asiasi opened training camp on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, but he has been pretty quiet after his return. He still should be able to make the roster as the third tight end behind Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, but his playing time projects as inconsistent.
Hunter Henry: One of the big-name free agency additions made by the Patriots in spring, Henry projects as a starter-level tight end this season. While he was recently forced to miss time with a shoulder injury, he should be ready to go come the regular season — despite wearing a red non-contact jersey in his return to the field earlier this week.
Matt LaCosse: LaCosse appeared to be a candidate to compete for the final roster spot among skill position players, but an injury suffered during joint practices against the Eagles changed his outlook. The Patriots could decide to keep him around through cutdowns and then move him to short-term injured reserve, but it appears to be more likely that he will be waived (possibly with an injury designation) before the 53-man deadline.
Jonnu Smith: Smith also missed time due to an injury earlier in training camp — he hurt his ankle before the team’s trip to Philadelphia last week — but he has since returned to practice in full capacity. If his training camp performance is a sign of things to come, the 26-year-old should play a big role for New England this season as both a receiver and a blocker.
Trent Brown: After two years with the Las Vegas Raiders, Brown is back in New England. His role looks a bit different than it did during his previous one-year stint in 2018 — he is now locked into the right tackle position instead of starting on the left side — but his outlook is similar: he will be a pivotal member of the team’s offense yet again.
Yodny Cajuste: The former third-round draft pick missed his first two seasons in the league due to injury, but he has since returned to the field and seen action as a reserve swing tackle. HIs flexibility to play on both sides might help him make the roster, but he currently projects only as OT4 behind Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown and Justin Herron.
Korey Cunningham: Cunningham has the ability to play both guard and tackle, which might help him make the team when all is said and done. The question is whether or not he has done enough to be kept around over Yodny Cajuste or a fifth interior lineman.
Justin Herron: As noted above, the second-year man appears to be the Patriots’ third offensive tackle at the moment. He should be considered a near-lock to make the roster despite Cajuste’s recent strides.
Isaiah Wynn: Even with former starting left tackle Trent Brown back in the fold, Wynn’s role remains unchanged: just like the last two years, he is still the Patriots’ blindside protector. Wynn’s abilities playing that role have never been in question — he can be a top-10 tackle in the league when healthy — but his ability to stay on the field has been a weakness of his. As a result, New England might decide to roll with four offensive tackles instead of three.
Interior offensive line
David Andrews: Andrews was re-signed by the Patriots on a four-year contract extension earlier this offseason, and he will continue to fill the role he held ever since 2016. He is the team’s undisputed starting center, and a leader both on and off the field.
James Ferentz: Ferentz projects as the Patriots’ fifth interior offensive lineman, and his roster outlook is uncertain. The question is whether the team decides to keep him in the fold or rather go with a fourth tackle like Yodny Cajuste or Korey Cunningham. Even if he fails to make the cut, though, he appears to be a candidate for the practice squad.
Ted Karras: Before re-signing David Andrews, the Patriots agreed to bring Karras back into the fold on a one-year contract. The veteran will likely serve as the next man up at either guard spot and the center position. He is a safe bet to make the roster, not just because his entire $3 million contract is guaranteed.
Shaq Mason: Mason has been the Patriots’ starting right guard since 2016 and his role will remain unchanged this year. Together with new right tackle Trent Brown he projects to form a powerful duo both in pass protection and run blocking.
Michael Onwenu: After serving as the Patriots’ starting right tackle down the stretch in 2020, Onwenu moved to the interior of the line this year. He took over the left guard spot vacated by Joe Thuney’s free agency departure and is therefore a lock to make the team and its starting lineup.
Alex Redmond: Redmond has some starting experience on his NFL résumé, but that alone won’t help him make the roster. The belief is that he will be released before the cutdown deadline.
William Sherman: The Patriots have had some success with sixth-round offensive linemen lately, but Sherman’s outlook is not as rosy. He has some positional flexibility and can play both guard and tackle, but he looks like he has a long way to go.
Interior defensive line
Montravius Adams: Adams has seen plenty of action in preseason, but he has not necessarily stood out. Playing on a one-year deal that includes only $50,000 in guarantees, he would not be considered a surprise cut if he indeed gets the axe next week.
Henry Anderson: One of the free agents brought aboard in March to help bolster New England’s front seven, Anderson is a safe bet to make the team. His abilities against the run in combination with his positional flexibility make him a perfect fit for the Patriots’ hybrid defense.
Christian Barmore: The Patriots traded up to grab Barmore in the second-round of this year’s draft, and he has looked very good so far. While he did miss some time due to injury, the rookie repeatedly showed his disruptiveness from the interior defensive line in training camp. He was nearly unblockable at times, and should be able to carve out a role as a sub-package pass rusher in 2021.
Byron Cowart (PUP): Cowart started training camp on PUP, and he ended it on PUP as well. As is the case with Jarrett Stidham, it would not be a surprise to see his status change from “active” to “reserve” ahead of cutdown day. If that happens, he would have to sit out at least six games.
Carl Davis: After struggling to stay healthy in 2020, Davis was re-signed on a one-year pact in free agency. Since then, he has produced a quality training camp and played himself very much into the roster conversation. He is no lock, but he has certainly played some good football as a rotational nose tackle.
Davon Godchaux: There is no doubt about Godchaux’s outlook heading into the season. The free agency acquisition, who was brought aboard on a two-year contract, will be on the team and serve as a starter at the nose or defensive tackle positions. While his value comes on early downs rather than in the pass rush, he has plenty of potential as the big-bodied anchor New England’s defense sorely missed in 2020.
Lawrence Guy: Guy was the final piece of the Patriots’ free agency puzzle to fall into place this spring, and he returned on a new four-year deal. The contract obviously makes him a lock to be on the 53-man roster this fall, and he again should play a valuable role both on and off the field.
Bill Murray: Murray did see some action with the starter-level defense against Philadelphia, and will get another chance to prove himself versus the Giants. However, he has a lot of talent ahead of him on the depth chart and therefore projects as a practice squad candidate.
Akeem Spence: An in-season addition last year, Spence has had some solid moments and also was used alongside the starters in preseason. However, he is in the same basic situation as Bill Murray: there simply is too much depth along the interior defensive line to keep everybody.
Nick Thurman: Take what has been said about Murray and Spence and also apply it to Nick Thurman. Add the fact that he missed three straight practices due to an apparent injury, and his outlook becomes quite obvious.
Deatrich Wise Jr: New England re-signed Wise Jr. on a four-year, $22 million contract in March and he projects to play a valuable role as defensive end in the Patriots’ 3-4 alignments. Not only is he an able and experienced pass rusher, he also is one of the outspoken members of the team’s locker room — and a potential candidate to be voted captain at one point.
Tashawn Bower: New England rebuilt its linebacker room this offseason, which puts Bower in a difficult position. While he has registered a sack in preseason, it likely won’t be enough to keep him around.
Ronnie Perkins: After already bolstering their linebacker group in free agency, the Patriots spent a third-round draft pick to get Perkins aboard as well. The youngster is a lock to make the team, even though it remains to be seen how he will be used within a deep edge group. Realistically, he will be a situational pass rusher from 5-technique position out.
Josh Uche: The Patriots’ pass rush has been ferocious at times this summer, and Uche is a big reason why. The former second-round draft pick appears to be fully healthy and in line for the famous second-year jump. He may not be an every-down linebacker just yet, but he certainly is a disruptive one.
Kyle Van Noy: After a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins, Van Noy is now back and projected to again fill a starter role in the Patriots’ linebacker group. While it remains to be seen how the coaches opt to use him relative to the other players at a deep position, Van Noy’s value as an experience and versatile player — let alone a tone-setter — cannot be denied.
Chase Winovich: Winovich missed the first 13 training camp practices and the preseason opener on the PUP list, but he has since returned and resumed his role as a rotational member of New England’s pass rushing group. The third-year man will probably not be a starter, but he should have a role on both defense and special teams.
Dont’a Hightower: Hightower sat out the Patriots’ 2020 season on the Coronavirus opt-out list, but he is back to resume his old role as the leader of the team’s front seven. A versatile player capable of lining up on the edge and off the ball, the veteran is the lead communicator up front and as integral a member of the unit as any other. There is no denying that New England’s defense is a better one with him in the fold.
Anfernee Jennings: Based on his status as a former third-round draft pick entering his second season in the system, Jennings should be seen as safe when it comes to making the roster. He has been on and off the field repeatedly this summer, however, so his outlook is a bit muddy.
Matthew Judon: Signing a four-year free agency contract with the Patriots in March, Judon is naturally a lock to be on the team’s roster this season (and beyond). And based on his practice and preseason performance so far, he projects to play a big role in New England’s revamped front seven this season.
Harvey Langi: Langi returned to the Patriots earlier this year, and has seen action on both defense and special teams. He did have his moments — including a sack versus Philadelphia — but New England’s linebacker depth will make it difficult for him to make the cut.
Ja’Whaun Bentley: Even though his 2020 season was disappointment, it seems likely that Bentley will have a role on the Patriots’ roster this season. The fourth-year linebacker received plenty of opportunities with the starting defense and projects as a valuable early-down option at the off-the-ball position.
Terez Hall (PUP): Hall underwent surgery on his ankle earlier this offseason and was subsequently sent to the PUP list at the start of training camp. He has remained there ever since and will likely not come back before roster cutdowns. Accordingly, he
Cameron McGrone (NFI): When the Patriots selected McGrone in the fifth round of the draft they knew his outlook for 2021 was unclear. After all, he had torn his ACL not even half a year earlier and was still in the process of rehabbing. The expectation is that he will at best play a limited role this season. More realistically, McGrone will be kept on the non-football injury list throughout the season.
Brandon King: After missing back-to-back seasons due to injury, King was not only back on the practice fields again this summer but he also participated in the Patriots’ first two preseason contests. His roster outlook depends exclusively on his kicking game performance, and his abilities in this area are well-documented. The question is if the team views them the same way heading into 2021.
Justin Bethel: Even though the Patriots have given him some reps at the cornerback position as well this summer, Bethel will make the team due to his special teams value. The 31-year-old, who was re-signed to a three-year contact before free agency, remains one of the best kicking game players in football.
Myles Bryant: Bryant had a promising rookie season, showing the ability to play both cornerback and safety. The Patriots did give him opportunities at both spots again this summer, but he has missed some practice time and was spotted in a red non-contact jersey this week. His outlook heading towards cutdown day is very much uncertain.
Stephon Gilmore (PUP): The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is still on the PUP list after ending the 2020 season on injured reserve because of a partially torn quad. Gilmore furthermore is in the middle of an apparent contract dispute that has not yet been resolved. He certainly remains a player to watch considering that the start of the regular season is only two weeks away and he is immensely important to the New England defense.
J.C. Jackson: Entering a contract season, Jackson will again start as a perimeter cornerback for the Patriots. The question is which role he will play. As long as Stephon Gilmore remains on PUP, after all, Jackson is the team’s number one cornerback. He is one of the better young corners in football, but New England would likely prefer having him as CB2 alongside Gilmore.
Michael Jackson Sr: For a while, Jackson appeared to be well on his way to make the team. However, the 24-year-old has been quiet recently and now also saw the trade acquisition of fifth-round rookie Shaun Wade.
Jonathan Jones: Jones left Thursday’s joint practice with the Giants with an apparent left leg injury, but he was back on the practice fields the following day. That was obviously good news for the Patriots given that the former undrafted free agent again projects to serve as the team’s top slot cornerback this season.
Jalen Mills: The Patriots signed Mills to a four-year free agency deal in spring, making him a lock to find himself on the roster come the regular season. While the former Eagle served as a starter opposite J.C. Jackson in practice, he appears to be better suited to align on the interior either as a slot cornerback or safety. Either way, he offers plenty of versatility and could serve as a chess piece for the New England defense in his first year in the system.
D’Angelo Ross: Ross is another player whose chances of making the team take a hit due to the Shaun Wade acquisition. The third-year man had an uneventful summer so far, which is not necessarily an encouraging sign for his outlook.
Dee Virgin: While Virgin has not stood out as a cornerback so far, but his usage on special teams has raised a few eyebrows: he was used as the top gunner opposite Matthew Slater during Justin Bethel’s recent absence. That said, the odds of making the roster are still very much against the 27-year-old.
Shaun Wade: The Patriots traded two draft picks to the Baltimore Ravens to acquire Wade — a 2022 seventh-rounder and a 2023 fifth-rounder. Accordingly, he should be expected to make the 53-man squad as a reserve option at both the cornerback and the safety positions.
Joejuan Williams: Over the last two weeks, the Patriots’ former second-round draft pick has seen plenty of action as an outside cornerback. While Williams did have his moments, he is far from a lock to make the roster as a third outside cornerback behind Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI): Even with training camp over New England’s sixth-round rookie remains on the NFI list. It would not be a surprise if the team kept him there, changing his status from “active” to “reserve” during roster cutdown day.
Adrian Colbert: Even though he registered an interception against the Eagles last week, Colbert appears to be a long-shot to make the roster at this point in time. Shaun Wade’s recent trade arrival certainly does not improve his chances.
Cody Davis: The Patriots re-signed Davis in free agency earlier this year, and he is a lock to make the roster. While he does have plenty of defensive snaps on his career résumé, his contributions to New England will come exclusively on special teams yet again.
Kyle Dugger: Dugger may have had some ups and downs over the course of training camp and preseason, but he nevertheless projects to play a big role in New England’s secondary in 2021 and beyond. The former second-round draft selection is a starter-caliber member of the Patriots’ defensive backfield.
Devin McCourty: While his future beyond the 2021 season is uncertain, McCourty will again serve as a starter in New England’s secondary this year. Together with linebacker Dont’a Hightower, he is one of the cornerstones of the team’s entire defense and will remain so until he decides to announce his retirement.
Adrian Phillips: Phillips has played some impressive football this summer, and will be a starter for the Patriots this season. The 29-year-old has seen considerable action against tight ends, and will therefore continue to help fill the role previously held by Patrick Chung — one he already played during the 2020 season.
Jake Bailey: The reigning All-Pro showcased his impressive talents and again in training camp and preseason. Bailey is a realistic candidate to receive a contract extension soon, and should serve as the Patriots’ punter for years to come.
Joe Cardona: Even though he missed some time earlier in training camp due to an undisclosed injury, Cardona’s outlook remains unchanged. He will be New England’s long snapper in 2020.
Nick Folk: Folk was forced to miss 10 practices and the Patriots’ first two preseason games, but he is now back on the field and the frontrunner to earn the place kicker job (one he already held down the stretch in 2019 and through all of 2020). He may not be a Pro Bowler, but the veteran is as steady as they come.
Quinn Nordin: The lone undrafted rookie on the Patriots’ current roster, Nordin received plenty of action this summer with Nick Folk out. However, the youngster had his ups and downs. He looked spectacular in practice and preseason at times, but also had some bad misses. Consistency is hugely important on special teams, and Nordin was anything but as of late.