Last August, Jahlani Tavai’s NFL career was at a crossroads. The Detroit Lions had just parted ways with their former second-round investment, releasing him after an uneven two-year stint that did not see him live up to his draft status.
Tavai made sure not to let the disappointment of flaming out in Detroit define him, though, and to take advantage of whatever opportunity would come next. It did not take long for one to arise: just one day after his release, the New England Patriots picked him up via their practice squad.
15 months after joining he organization, it has now rewarded him with a new contract: Tavai and the Patriots reached an agreement on a two-year, $4.4 million extension running through 2024.
The deal gives both the club and the linebacker some clarity for the future, and it shows that betting on himself has quite literally paid off for Tavai.
“I try not to live by roller coasters,” Tavai told reporters after news of the extension broke on Tuesday. “I try to live my life as consistently as possible or as steadily as I can. That’s just the way of football. You don’t want too many ups and downs. You want to keep it steady and show no panic. I have faith in myself, and I bet on myself that I could get things done.”
Tavai came into the league as the 43rd overall selection in 2019, and went on to play 31 games for the Lions the next two years.
However, a regime change in the middle of his second season with the club put him in an uncertain situation. Joining the Patriots’ practice squad was therefore an opportunity not just to reunite with his former head coach — New England assistant coach Matt Patricia — but also to add some stability to his career again.
A month after his arrival, he took the next step by getting promoted to the active roster. Tavai has not left since, playing 25 games and developing into a core member of the Patriots’ defense and special teams units.
“Jahlani’s done a good job for us,” said head coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday. “Played a lot of football. He’s played on every down. Smart, versatile player that’s earned playing time.”
His development from apparent draft bust to practice squad member to core player on the Patriots has now prompted them to invest even further in the 26-year-old. Needless to say that Tavai is quite happy about this latest chapter in his career.
“I’m happy as hell. I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me,” he said before quickly turning back to full-business mode: “I’m just worried about Buffalo. I’m not even thinking about that right now.”
How the Patriots will use the linebacker in their upcoming Week 13 game against the Buffalo Bills remains to be seen. If the recent trend continues, however, he will once again be on the field for roughly half of New England’s defensive snaps and line up all over the formation.
While a classic off-the-ball linebacker based on his experience and 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame, the Patriots have not shied away from also aligning him elsewhere. Per Pro Football Focus, he has spent 199 of his 365 snaps off the line of scrimmage with 140 more on the edge.
This versatility is what played a part in New England keeping him around long-term, and per Tavai himself is a defining trait for him as a player and a product of his upbringing.
“I’ve always been comfortable on or off the ball. It’s just another opportunity for me to be on the field,” he said. “All I care about is being out there and riding with the boys. I don’t care if I’m playing 3-tech, on the edge or off the ball. I’ll be ready for whatever my role is.
“My older brothers have always instilled that in me, to be adaptable in any kind of situation. Luckily, I was blessed with some good genes to play on and off the ball, and I’m just going to keep riding with it.”
Likewise, the Patriots will keep riding with him for the foreseeable future.