With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 86 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 second-year cornerback Shaun Wade.
Name: Shaun Wade
Jersey number: 26
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Before joining the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, Wade spent his entire four-year college career at Ohio State. The former five-star prospect and No. 2 cornerback in the 2017 recruitment class, he did not play during his freshman campaign because of an abdominal injury suffered during spring practices. Wade was able to take take the field the following year, however, and over the next three seasons became a valuable member of the Buckeyes’ secondary.
Between 2018 and 2020, he appeared in a combined 35 games with 18 starts and registered six interceptions — including one returned for a touchdown —, three forced fumbles and was named Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year as a redshirt junior. He also was voted a team captain during his 2020 redshirt junior campaign. His comparatively short time in the NFL, meanwhile, has been less successful. Wade, who was traded from the Ravens to the Patriots ahead of the 2021 regular season, has seen action in only three games.
What did his 2021 season look like? Despite his 2020 junior campaign being a challenge for him — Covid-19 cut it short, he struggled as an outside cornerback, and had to deal with a turf toe injury that required surgery after the season —, Wade decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility to turn pro. As surprising as the decision might have been, it did lead to him hearing his name called on draft day: the Ravens decided to invest the 160th overall selection in the fifth round to bring him aboard.
Wade spent the entire spring and most of the summer in Baltimore and along the way saw action in the first two of the team’s preseason contests. But while he played 35 of 107 possible defensive snaps (32.7%) and registered an interception, he found himself on the outside looking in with roster cutdowns looming. As a result, the Ravens made Wade available for trade and the Patriots came calling ahead of the preseason finale: New England acquired him for a 2022 seventh-round pick and a 2023 fifth-rounder.
Wade saw comparatively prominent action in the Patriots’ preseason finale just three days later — he played 45 combined snaps between defense and special teams — but spent a majority of the regular season on the bench. In fact, he took the field for just three of New England’s 18 total games: Wade combined to play 11 defensive snaps between Weeks 11 and 12, registering one tackle in the second of those games against the Tennessee Titans. He furthermore played five special teams snaps, plus two more in Week 15.
All in all, Wade’s rookie season looked a lot like a redshirt campaign. Multiple factors contributed to this. Not only was he a late arrival with little time to get acclimated to the Patriots’ system, the fifth-rounder also missed time after suffering a concussion in practice in October. Additionally, Wade was unable to dress for New England’s wild card playoff loss in Buffalo after testing positive for Covid-19. Add it all up, and you get a player who found himself in a difficult position for much of his rookie year.
What is his projected role? Wade played all over the formation during his time at Ohio State, but the Patriots used him in a specific role during his brief opportunities in 2021: he was primarily employed as a perimeter cornerback, aligning on both the left and the right side of the defensive formation. Heading into his sophomore year in the system as an under-the-radar option, Wade appears to be a candidate to compete for playing time and maybe even a starter job on New England’s rebuilt outside cornerback depth chart.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots used Wade rather one-dimensionally as a rookie, with 94 percent of his snaps between preseason and the regular season coming as an outside cornerback (the other 6 percent saw him align in the box). As noted above, however, he has experience playing all spots in the secondary from his time as a Buckeye: during his three non-redshirt years in Columbus, he saw prominent action in the slot, on the outside and as a box safety; he also lined up deep and along the defensive line on occasion.
What is his special teams value? Neither the Ravens nor the Patriots shied away from giving Wade some special teams snaps in 2021. New England used him on its punt return unit during the regular season, and on the kickoff coverage and field goal/extra point blocking squads in preseason; Baltimore also gave him an opportunity on the kickoff return team. As is the case with his defensive experience, however, his kicking game résumé is a rather short one coming off a quiet rookie year.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots acquired Wade via trade last August, not all of his contract transferred from Baltimore to New England. His $317,564 signing bonus remained with the Ravens, meaning that there are no guarantees left on his deal from his new team’s perspective. As a result, Wade is currently not counting against the Patriots’ salary cap: his $825,000 salary is not enough to qualify for Top-51 status, meaning that it will only hit the books if he makes the 53-man roster come September.
How safe is his roster spot? Wade offers some intriguing talent and versatility, but he is far from a lock to make the team. Instead, he will have to compete against other outside options at the cornerback position to earn his spot on the roster or at least the practice squad. With Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler and Jack Jones all locks to make the team, Terrance Mitchell and Joejuan Williams are left as his competition. The three appear to be fighting for no more than one spot on the team — if even that — and Wade will have a hard time making the 53-man roster unless he shows some significant improvement in Year 2.
One-sentence projection: Despite his upside and flexible skillset, the numbers are working against Wade and he will have to eye the practice squad rather than the active team.