With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
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 fourth-year offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste.
Name: Yodny Cajuste
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 72
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Cajuste arrived in the NFL as a third-round pick by the Patriots in the 2019 draft, but has had only one healthy season so far: he missed virtually all of his first two years in the league due to injury before serving as a backup in 2021. Cajuste still has some experience, though. Not only did he spend three years as part of the New England organization and all that that entails, he also saw considerable playing time during his time at West Virginia between 2014 and 2018.
After redshirting during his true freshman season, Cajuste earned the Mountaineers’ starting left tackle job the following year. Injuries in both 2015 (knee) and 2016 (torn ACL) limited him to just eight in-game appearances over those two seasons, but he bounced back in impressive fashion by starting the final 23 straight games of his collegiate career. Along the way, he was named to two All-Big 12 teams and recognized as a second-team All-American after not surrendering a sack during his senior campaign.
What did his 2021 season look like? After not seeing any game action over his first two years in the NFL, Cajuste entered the 2021 offseason seemingly fighting for his roster life. He was under some pressure to finally get onto the field and live up to his draft status, but despite not quite doing the latter was able to make the team. He saw considerable action in preseason — appearing in all three game and moving between left and right tackle — and eventually beat out other depth options at the position.
Entering the regular season alongside fellow tackles Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Justin Herron and trade acquisition Yasir Durant, Cajuste saw limited action over the first four weeks; he was used exclusively on special teams. By Week 5, however, he was suddenly inserted into the starting lineup: with Brown out due to a calf injury and Wynn absent after testing positive for Covid-19, Herron and Cajuste were elevated. The latter ended up going wire-to-wire against the Houston Texans, playing 62 snaps at the right tackle spot.
Cajuste also started the following week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, but was benched after just 15 snaps and giving up a sack. He did not return to the starting lineup for the rest of the season and in fact received only two more offensive snaps down he stretch while serving as an emergency option; Cajuste ended his 2021 campaign having played just 81 of a possible 1,169 snaps (6.9%) and giving up four total quarterback disruptions. Additionally, he took the field for 24 snaps in the kicking game (of 464; 5.2%).
For the third straight year, Cajuste also dealt with health questions. While he was not sent to injured reserve for the first time in his career, he did miss time due to a hamstring injury early during the season. Furthermore, he had to spend two weeks on the Coronavirus reserve list in late December and early January. The 2021 season as a whole was not as challenging for Cajuste as his previous campaigns, but it still did not see him emerge as anything more than a second- or third-string player.
What is his projected role? With Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn locked into the starting spots at left and right offensive tackle, respectively, Cajuste is projected to compete for the third/swing role over the course of training camp and preseason. He is the longest-tenured backup option currently under contract, but his injury history, limited on-field experience and relative one-dimensionality might hurt him compared to other players such as Justin Herron or Yasir Durant.
Does he have positional versatility? Cajuste played exclusively at the left tackle position at West Virginia, but the Patriots asked him to take on a more diverse role in 2021: they had him align on both ends of the line as well as in-line tight end last season. His versatility does not extend beyond those three spots, however. That is especially true given that Cajuste only started playing the position during his senior year at high school and was still growing into it in college. The Patriots adding increased responsibilities to his plate would therefore be a surprise even in Year 4. His significant injury history does not help either.
What is his special teams value? With the exception of center David Andrews, the Patriots used all their offensive linemen in the kicking game during the 2021 season. Despite his recent injury issues, Cajuste was not treated any differently: he played 24 snaps as a protector on field goal and extra point attempts, primarily aligning as a right tackle but also kicking out to the end at one point. The expectation is that he will continue playing such a role this year.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Cajuste is carrying a salary cap number of $1.03 million — one that currently qualifies for Top-51 status. The structure of the deal is pretty straight-forward: he is set to play on a base salary of $825,000 as well as a signing bonus proration worth $205,545. With only that second number fully guaranteed, his dead cap hit in case of a release would be comparatively small.
How safe is his roster spot? Even though his first three years in the NFL have been a disappointment, Cajuste’s potential is still tantalizing. Until he starts putting it all together, however, he remains an uncertain projection. The same is therefore also true for his standing on the roster: the 26-year-old is no lock to make the team even though he currently appears to be the fourth player at the position behind the aforementioned Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn and Justin Herron.
One-sentence projection: Potential alone will not keep Cajuste on the roster in his fourth season in the league, but given the extensive injury history of the players ahead of him on the depth chart might just be enough for him to make the 53-man squad again this year.