With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 85 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with veteran special teamer Cody Davis.
Name: Cody Davis
Position: Special teamer/Safety
Jersey number: 22
Opening day age: 33
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Davis started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent signing by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. While his defensive playing time was limited early on in his career, he immediately carved out a spot in the kicking game. During his five years with the organization, his role evolved and he eventually was a regular on five of the Rams’ special teams units between 2015 and 2017 — all while also seeing increased action as a rotational safety during his final two years with the club, playing over 500 snaps on defense.
After appearing in a combined 66 regular season and playoff games for the team, Davis joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent in 2018. At that point, his usage began to change a bit: he was no longer used prominently on the defensive side of the ball, but remained a core special teamer. Overall, he was on the field for 32 games as a Jaguar, playing a combined 745 of a possible 866 special teams snaps in 2018 and 2019 (86%). Davis also registered 18 kicking game tackles and one block during his time in Jacksonville.
Davis joined the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and has been with the team ever since. In New England, he was employed similarly to how the Jaguars opted to used him: he was a core special teamer who had virtually no impact on the defensive side of the ball. In total, he has appeared in a combined 31 regular season and playoff games for the organization — ranking among the team leaders in special teams snaps each of his two years. Davis notched 24 tackles in the game’s third phase.
What did his 2021 season look like? Davis was originally scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March 2021, but the Patriots did not allow him to hit the market. Two days before it was set to open, they re-signed the veteran special teamer via a two-year, $4.3 million contract that would keep him in New England through the 2022 season. The first of those two new years showed why the organization elected to keep Davis around, but it also ended up as a rather disappointing campaign overall.
One of the Patriots’ core special teamers, Davis appeared in all 17 of the team’s regular season games plus their playoff loss in Buffalo. Along the way, he was on the field for 363 of a possible 464 kicking game snaps (78.2%) — third on the team behind only Matthew Slater’s 373 and Justin Bethel’s 370 — and registered a team-high 15 tackles when used on kickoff and punt coverage. He additionally saw regular action on the two return teams as well as the field goal and extra point blocking unit.
From that perspective, Davis’ season was a successful one. However, the story of his 2021 campaign cannot be told without also mentioning New England’s punt protection issues: the team allowed a league-high three of Jake Bailey’s punt attempts to be blocked, including one that was returned for a touchdown in Week 15 against the Indianapolis Colts. Davis is not solely responsible for those plays, but as the designated personal protector still played an important role in setting up the protection pre-snap.
Nonetheless, special teams coordinator Cam Achord and head coach Bill Belichick continued to use Davis in that role through the rest of the season. Whether this was because they still trusted his abilities, believed that the breakdowns occurred outside of his sphere of influence, or due to a lack of alternatives is anybody’s guess. Regardless of their motivations, Davis’ status as a key special teamer never changed. Neither did his role on defense: for the second straight year, Davis was not used at the safety position.
What is his projected role? Even though Davis offers considerable experience at the safety position, he will likely not see regular if any playing time on defense in 2022. His primary role with the Patriots will again come in the kicking game, where he is a five-unit special teams player. He will again be used on punt and kickoff coverage teams, both return squads, and on the place kick blocking units. Davis will likely also be the designated personal protector for punter Jake Bailey again, despite last year’s struggles.
Does he have positional versatility? As he showed ever since joining the Patriots in 2020, Davis offers the desired versatility to be heavily featured in the kicking game. On top of this, he also was used all over the defensive secondary during his time with the Rams: in 2017, his final season with the club, he played free safety (158 snaps), strong safety (94 snaps), slot cornerback (10 snaps) and perimeter cornerback (6 snaps). New England did not employ him this way the last two years, though, which means that his versatility will again be theoretical on defense and limited to special teams.
What is his special teams value? Davis is one of the most experienced kick coverage players in football and will again play a prominent role on a special teams unit led by fellow veterans Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. As was the case in 2020 and 2021, he will again be among the team leaders in kicking game snaps, while being used on all four kicking teams — kickoff coverage and return, punt coverage and return — as well as the field goal and extra point blocking squads.
What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, the Patriots kept Davis around ahead of last year’s free agency. As part of the two-year pact he signed in March 2021, he is carrying a $2.3 million salary cap hit this season — the 24th highest on the team at the moment. Davis is playing on a $1.4 million salary, with a $500,000 signing bonus proration and $400,000 in active roster bonuses; his signing bonus is the only guarantee remaining in his pact.
How safe is his roster spot? Given New England’s punt protection issues a year ago and Davis’ contract structure, his spot on the roster cannot be considered entirely safe heading into 2022. That said, the free agency losses of fellow special teamers such as Brandon King, Brandon Bolden and Jakob Johnson might lead to the team keeping him in the fold after all: Davis is a proven commodity and has been a productive player ever since his arrival in Foxborough two years back; his presence would ensure some degree of stability.
One-sentence projection: Davis will indeed make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, serving as a core special teamer yet again while not seeing any action on the defensive side of the ball.