With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror and training camp set to kick off later this month, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 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 linebacker Cameron McGrone.
Name: Cameron McGrone
Jersey number: 45
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6-foot-1, 235 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? McGrone entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Patriots last spring and was spotted at various points during the team’s offseason workout program. However, he was forced to play the role of spectator while still recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered the previous November. Due to his recovery from the injury, McGrone enters his second year as a pro without any in-game experience. That said, he does have some on his résumé from his time at the University of Michigan.
All in all, he appeared in 19 games for the Wolverines over a three-season span. That being said, the majority of his action came in his second year in the program: McGrone played only one game as a true freshman before suiting up for 13 games the following season — one that also included 10 starts. He showed his promise that year and in 2020 as well, despite the aforementioned ACL tear ending his career at Michigan prematurely. Still, he left the school being named an honorable All-Big Ten mention twice.
What did his 2021 season look like? Five weeks after suffering a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee, McGrone announced his decision to forgo his senior year at Michigan in hopes of entering the NFL. He had a realistic case based on his upside as a modern-day linebacker, but his injury situation put him in a difficult situation: McGrone was unable to do any pre-draft workouts, which contributed to him staying on the board until the fifth round; he did not hear his name called until the Patriots picked him up 177th overall.
The expectation at the time was that he would spend his rookie campaign as a de facto redshirt. Indeed McGrone was unable to participate in any on-field work during voluntary offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp, even though he was spotted among the players present each time. However, he was moved to the non-football injury list before training camp — a list he was not activated from ahead of the regular season, meaning that he would have to sit out at least the first six weeks.
McGrone ended up missing all 18 of the Patriots’ games during his rookie season, but he still found his way onto the field. The team decided to open his 21-day activation window in late November, which allowed him to return to practice. He did indeed participate in practice, but was never actually activated to the 53-man squad (and later also spent time on the Covid-19 reserve list). As a result, McGrone ended his rookie season with three weeks worth of valuable practice time but no in-game action.
What is his projected role? While we have yet to see McGrone appear in a game for the Patriots, the expectation is that he will be used like he was throughout his time at Michigan and serve as a classic off-the-ball linebacker. As such, he will (might?) serve as a top-four member of the linebacker group — alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson — and help the team replace still unsigned veterans Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. While he projects more favorably on passing downs, his skillset and ceiling makes him an intriguing part of the new-look room.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots value positional flexibility in their linebackers, but McGrone did not shown much in this area during his college career. Out of 943 defensive career snaps at Michigan, 890 came with him aligned in a traditional box linebacker position (94.4%). While he did play outside linebacker in high school and has some good speed to possibly attack around the edge, the Wolverines’ coaches did not trust him in such a role. Whether or not New England’s will remains to be seen.
What is his special teams value? McGrone could be given considerable special teams snaps in 2022. He has the speed to serve as a coverage player on both kickoffs and punts, and as such would be a two-unit player right from the get-go. Depending on how his defensive usage evolves, however, so would his kicking game contributions: the Patriots might decide to give them fewer snaps in case he receives a prominent role as an off-the-ball linebacker.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the second season of the four-year rookie pact McGrone signed with the Patriots last spring, he is carrying a salary cap number of $765,038: he is playing on a $705,000 salary and will also earn his $60,038 signing bonus proration for the 2022 campaign. With the NFL’s Top-51 rule in place during the offseason only that bonus is counted against New England’s cap at the moment; the salary will not be added to the equation until McGrone is on the active roster come the regular season.
How safe is his roster spot? Based simply on his status as a former fifth-round draft pick who missed all of his roomie year and carries a minimal dead cap charge of $60,038 if released, McGrone’s spot on the roster would be far from safe. However, the Patriots’ current linebacker situation makes it highly likely that he will be on the team as a potentially valuable member of the group. While his eventual role and spot on the depth chart have yet to be determined, the 22-year-old appears to be in a favorable position.
One-sentence projection: McGrone will make the team and earn some semi-regular playing time as a package-specific off-the-ball linebacker behind projected starters Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan.