With the preseason underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The team currently has 82 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 fourth-year tight end Matt Sokol.
Name: Matt Sokol
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 87
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-6, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
What is his experience? After appearing in 52 games over the course of his four-year career at Michigan State, Sokol did not hear his name called in the 2019 NFL Draft. It did not take him long to find a team as a rookie free agent, however, signing a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers shortly after the conclusion of the seventh round. Since his arrival in the league, Sokol’s journey has been one of constant change: he has yet to find a permanent home and is now on his fourth different team in four years.
Starting his career in Los Angeles, Sokol joined the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad later during his rookie campaign. After the season, he signed a reserve/futures deal with the Detroit Lions. He remained with the team until October, when he was let go and eventually returned to the Chargers. Following additional stints in Jacksonville and Detroit, Sokol was claimed off waivers by the Patriots in May. All in all, he has appeared in two regular season games — both as a Lion in 2020 — over the course of his career.
What did his 2021 season look like? After ending his 2020 season on the Chargers’ active roster, Sokol headed into training camp and preseason with the team. He saw action in all three exhibition contests, but played only 35 of a possible 178 snaps on the offensive side of the ball (19.7%) as well as 16 of 68 on special teams (23.5%). His limited opportunities also led to a relatively modest statistical output, with the former UDFA catching only three passes for 30 total yards. His release on roster cutdown day did not come as a surprise.
Sokol did clear waivers upon being let go by the Chargers, but he did not have to spend a lot of time on the free agent market. Just two days later, the Jaguars picked him up for a second time: Jacksonville signed him to its practice squad, where he would spend the remainder of the 2021 season and not see any game action. After the Jaguars’ season came to an end, they did not offer the tight end a reserve/futures contract. Instead, he entered free agency before being picked up by the Lions. Four months later, he was let go again.
What is his projected role? Sokol is a throwback of sorts at the tight end position, in that he can serve as a multi-purpose player who does not have clear deficits in one area. A well-rounded option who is best suited to fill a package-specific rotational role, he has considerable experience as a pass catcher and as a blocker. Sokol therefore projects as a potential backup behind one of New England’s starter-level tight ends, Hunter Henry.
Does he have positional versatility? Despite his size and skillset allowing him to play a role as both a receiver and a blocker in the running and passing games, the 26-year-old is not the most positionally flexible player at the tight end spot. Sokol has some experience aligning in the slot and was even occasionally split out wide or sent into the backfield as a lead blocker. Given his limited upside when flexed elsewhere, however, he is best used as an in-line option.
What is his special teams value? During their first two preseason games of the summer, the Patriots have used Sokol on three special teams units. His 21 total snaps are split between the punt coverage (8) and field goal/extra point protection squads (8) as well as the kickoff return team (5). When it comes to his usage in the game’s third phase, Sokol is employed the same way as fellow backup tight end Devin Asiasi.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots claimed Sokol from the waiver wire in mid-May, they picked up the reserve/futures contract he had originally signed with the Lions back in January. That deal has a value of $705,000 and consists only of a non-guaranteed base salary. With no guarantees or bonuses embedded into the deal, releasing or trading Sokol would not result in any dead cap space being created on New England’s books.
How safe is his roster spot? The Patriots’ tight end position is led by Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who are not going anywhere anytime soon. Behind those two, however, nothing is set in stone. Following the release of former third-round draft pick Dalton Keene, the lone backup spot that is realistically open comes down to a competition between Sokol, Devin Asiasi and recent free agent pickup Jalen Wydermyer. All three are roster bubble players, with Sokol and Asiasi the frontrunners at the moment.
One-sentence projection: Even though he has seen plenty of exposure in preseason, Sokol will get released ahead of one of the two upcoming roster cutdown deadlines.