With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
The team currently has 84 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 offensive lineman James Ferentz
Name: James Ferentz
Jersey number: 65
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? After a five-year college career at the University of Iowa under his father, Kirk, Ferentz joined the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted free agent pickup by the Houston Texans. He spent his entire rookie campaign on the Texans’ practice squad before being claimed off waivers by the Denver Broncos ahead of the 2015 season opener. Over the next two years, Ferentz appeared in 22 games for his new club as a reserve interior offensive lineman — earning a Super Bowl ring along the way.
The Broncos decided to part ways with Ferentz after the 2017 draft, however, paving the way for him to join the Patriots. After spending his first year in New England on the practice squad, Ferentz saw increased action over the next four seasons as a backup option at the center and guard positions. As such, he appeared in a combined 28 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots and earned the first six starts of his NFL career. He also won another championship, serving as a game-day inactive for Super Bowl LIII.
What did his 2021 season look like? Even though he did not have to stay on the open market as long as the previous year, when he remained available for six months, Ferentz’s 2021 free agency was still a slow one. Eventually, however, he did find a new team: his old one. Ferentz found his way back to New England and re-signed with the club on a one-year, $1.02 million contract in mid-May. That deal ended up getting reworked numerous times, however, with the veteran moving between the active roster and practice squad.
Ferentz spent the entirety of training camp and preseason on New England’s active roster, but was released on cutdown day. He returned via the practice squad just one day later, and saw no game action during the first four weeks of the regular season. By Week 5, however, he was suddenly elevated to the starting lineup after left guard Michael Onwenu tested positive for Covid-19. Ferentz ended up starting two games in Onwenu’s place, and also took the field late in a blowout win over the New York Jets in Week 7.
Amidst all of this, he remained on the practice squad rather than the 53-man roster. Ferentz was eventually promoted to the active team to serve as a depth player in Weeks 8 and 9, but he was let go again in early November and sent back to the developmental roster. Ferentz spent the reset of the season there, seeing no additional opportunities to take the field. All in all, he therefore ended the 2021 season with three in-game appearances as well as a combined 133 offensive snaps and two more on special teams.
When in the lineup Ferentz’s performance can best be described as serviceable. He was a clear downgrade from the players he he filled in for — left guard Michael Onwenu in Weeks 5 and 6, right guard Shaq Mason in Week 7 — but fared well for a what he is: a backup player who is only asked to suit up in case of emergency. The Patriots had a few of those along their offensive line last year, but had the advantage of having an experienced and versatile player such as Ferentz in the fold.
What is his projected role? The fact that he has started only six combined games over the course of his eight-year career in the NFL tells you all you need to know about Ferentz’s status heading into 2022: he is a backup player and should not be expected to suddenly develop into a starting-caliber lineman. As he has done for the last five seasons, though, he will continue to offer experience along all three interior spots even though he will only see any game action in case of injuries higher up on the depth chart.
Does he have positional versatility? Ferentz has seen game action at all three interior offensive line spots since arriving in New England in 2017, and his versatility in combination with experience is one of his best traits. While this is the main reason the Patriots kept him around all these yers, he also offers additional positional flexibility: Ferentz also lined up in an in-line tight end spot earlier during his career, and even has played eight snaps as a fullback — including one during his 2019 season in New England.
What is his special teams value? Offensive linemen generally have only limited value in the kicking game, and Ferentz is not an exception. That being said, he still has a combined 154 special teams snaps on his career résumé. While a majority of them — 78.6 percent, to be exact — came as a protector on field goal and extra point kicking teams, he also was used occasionally on kickoff and punt return units during his time in Denver. That said, it would a surprise if New England employed him in such a fashion based on his last five years in the organization.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots did not sign Ferentz to a reserve/futures deal after his practice squad contract had expired, sending him to the open market by January. He ultimately did return to New England again, however, signing a one-year, $1.08 million deal with the club. That number, however, is deceiving because his actual salary cap number is just $935,000: Ferentz’s deal, after all, qualifies for veteran salary benefit status. As a consequence, only $895,000 of his $1.04 million salary plus his $40,000 signing bonus are counted against the team’s books. The rest is treated as a benefit.
How safe is his roster spot? Ferentz has been with the Patriots since 2017, but has only made the opening day roster on one occasion. While there is always a chance that this changes based on the composition of the team, the veteran should not be considered a roster lock or anything close to it at this point in time. A lot depends on training camp: if Ferentz can prove himself the best option among the current backup interior linemen — himself, William Sherman, Chasen Hines, Drew Desjarlais, Arlington Hambright, Bill Murray — he might make the team after all. If not, however, he might get released yet again and potentially return via the practice squad.
One-sentence projection: Despite serving as the number two center behind David Andrews early in training camp, Ferentz will again not be on the 53-man team after roster cutdown day.