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Examining the roster ties between Patriots, Lions ahead of Week 5

The former Patriots and former Lions in the fold for Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

NFL: NOV 18 Patriots at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There was a time when no NFL team featured more former New England Patriots than the Detroit Lions.

It was the spring of 2020. It was a 90-man roster overseen by general manager Bob Quinn, head coach Matt Patricia and a staff that ranged from Steve Gregory and Tyrone McKenzie to Ty Warren and Evan Rothstein. And on it were 14 players who previously made a stop in Foxborough.

But gone from Detroit are all but one of those players. Here’s a glance through the connections that remain leading up to Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium.


Dan Skipper, offensive tackle — Undrafted out of Arkansas in 2017, the 6-foot-10 Skipper spent parts of his rookie regular season between the practice squad and active roster in Detroit. But his NFL career has included tours with an additional five organizations. Count New England among them. The Patriots signed Skipper to the practice squad as the calendar turned to 2019. A Super Bowl LIII ring and a futures contract were collected before he was waived at the league’s deadline the next fall and briefly rejoined the scout team. Now at age 28, Skipper has appeared in 16 career games. His initial pair of starts were earned in September as a standard elevation from the Lions’ practice squad. Those starts came after HBO’s “Hard Knocks” saw Skipper informed of his release by head coach Dan Campbell. And those starts saw him play all 139 downs at left guard before officially signing to the 53 last weekend. Another start and another 74 downs followed.


Matt Sokol, tight end — The Patriots added the 26-year-old Sokol to the practice squad at its formation last month. He had been claimed off waivers from Detroit in May, when the depth chart included 2020 draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene behind starters Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Sokol originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and has checked into two career games in the regular season. The Michigan State product was twice a Los Angeles Charger, twice a Jacksonville Jaguar and also twice a Lion. His most recent preseason gave way to four receptions on four targets for 24 yards. No New England tight end stayed on the field for more offensive snaps in August.

Jahlani Tavai, linebacker — Detroit sent in the card for Tavai in the second round of the 2019 draft at No. 43 overall. The linebacker by way of Hawaii would appear in 31 games for the Lions, starting 16. His tenure spanned 116 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception as well as a stint on injured reserve. Waived last summer midway through his contract, Tavai went unclaimed and signed to the New England practice squad. The move reunited him with his previous head coach. And a promotion came next. Tavai played in 13 games in 2021, ranking eighth in playtime percentage on special teams. Off the edges and off the ball for the Patriots, the 26-year-old has since appeared in every game this campaign, recording his first sack since his rookie season to go with 14 total tackles.

Jamie Collins, linebacker — The 32-year-old Collins had been an unrestricted free agent since the league year opened in March. But he returned Monday on the practice squad. And to the club that drafted him No. 52 overall out of Southern Mississippi in 2013, traded him to the Cleveland Browns in 2016, and re-signed him both in 2019 and 2021. In between for the four-time Patriot was a three-year, $30 million contract with the Lions that included $18 million guaranteed. It came to a close with his release after 16 starts, 135 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two interceptions. A Super Bowl XLIX champion and ex-Pro Bowler and All-Pro, Collins has appeared in 76 games with 58 starts for New England while amassing 328 tackles, 18.5 sacks, nine interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a pair of touchdowns.

Garrett Gilbert, quarterback — Although not officially signed by the Patriots, the expectation is that the journeyman will join their practice squad on Wednesday. It will be his third stint with the organization, one of nine in the NFL to have had Gilbert under contract at one point. A sixth-round pick out of SMU in 2014, he started his career in St. Louis before joining the Patriots later during his rookie campaign. After being waived the following summer, he was claimed by the Lions and spent the better part of three months in Detroit. Following his release, he moved on to stints in Oakland, Carolina, the short-lived AAF, Cleveland and Dallas. Gilbert was back on the Patriots practice squad by September 2021, but Washington signed him to its active roster later that year. He returned to New England via a brief stint in Las Vegas, and as a veteran of two NFL starts.