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Patriots 2023 offseason preview: Drastic changes might be on the horizon on special teams

Our position-by-position offseason analysis concludes with the kicking game.

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New England Patriots (22) Vs. New York Jets (17) at MetLife Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Two teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs, but the New England Patriots are not among them. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they failed to qualify for the tournament and are already on to the offseason.

It projects to be an interesting one for the team. On the one hand, it is coming off a disappointing year that saw especially the offense fall short of its expectations — a fact that has already led to some changes on the coaching staff. On the other hand, however, the Patriots are among the league leaders in offseason resources and already have plenty of young building-block-type players under contract.

With all that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time by looking at each position individually. Today, we wrap things up on special teams.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line | Defensive edge | Off-the-ball linebacker | Cornerback | Safety | Special teams

Final 2022 depth chart

Nick Folk: The Patriots re-signed Folk via a two-year, $5 million contract ahead of free agency, and he was undisputed as the team’s kicker throughout the year. But while he was off to an impressive start, the 38-year-old started to fade a bit down the stretch. All in all, he made 32 of 37 field goal attempts (86.5%) and 32 of 35 extra points (91.4%). He also had 33 kickoffs, with only three of them resulting in touchbacks (9.1%).

Michael Palardy: With Jake Bailey unavailable down the stretch, the Patriots turned to Michael Palardy as their punter of choice. Like his predecessor, though, he struggled. Palardy had a gross average of just 42.4 yards, with a net of 37.1 — both ranking him near the bottom of the league in those categories. Additionally, one of his punts was blocked.

Tucker Addington: Originally an undrafted free agent in 2020, it took until 2022 for Addington to find some NFL love. He first joined the Dallas Cowboys but eventually signed with the Patriots’ practice squad in December. With Joe Cardona headed for injured reserve, he was eventually promoted and ended up seeing action in three games.

Tristan Vizcaino (PS): The career journeyman had two separate stints on the Patriots’ practice squad, but he did see action in two games as a kickoff specialist. Of his six kickoffs, however, none resulted in touchbacks.

Jake Bailey (IR/S): After signing what was effectively a four-year, $13.5 million contract extension in August, Bailey struggled in 20202. He averaged just 42.1 yards per punt with a net of 35.2 — ranking 34th and 35th in the league in those categories, respectively — before eventually being sent to injured reserve in mid-November because of a back injury. He was designated to return from IR a month later and was a regular participant in practice over the next two weeks, but eventually was shut down for good. It later turned out that the reason for him staying sidelined was a team suspension.

Joe Cardona (IR): Did you hear Joe Cardona’s name over the first 14 games of the season? No? That’s how you know he did a good job. Unfortunately, however, he was sent to injured reserve in late December because of foot injury. After a string of 140 straight games to open his career, the veteran had to spend New England’s final three contests sidelined.

Quinn Nordin (NFI): The lone member of the Patriots’ 2021 undrafted free agents class, Nordin spent his entire sophomore year on the non-football injury list. He was sent there in mid-June.

Position assessment

With Tristan Vizcaino not re-signed before the expiration of his practice squad contract, the Patriots have only two place kickers on their roster in Nick Folk and unproven youngster Quinn Nordin. When it comes to incumbent Folk, he faded down the stretch and at age 38 simply might not have it anymore.

Punter Jake Bailey, meanwhile, had the worst year of his career just months after signing a lucrative extension and ended the season with the aforementioned suspension. Michael Palardy definitely did not prove himself the answer in 2022 if Bailey does not come back, so New England needs to figure this situation out.

The biggest question mark in the kicking game might be veteran leadership, though. Not only is long snapper Joe Cardona an unrestricted free agent, the same is true for core special teamer Cody Davis as well. Additionally, the group’s long-time captain, Matthew Slater, is no lock to come back and might head into retirement.

Offseason preview

The Patriots have to look at taking a kicker late in the draft. Also, getting a kicker who can actually kick the ball into the end zone on a kickoff would be helpful.

At punter, Jake Bailey still might be the guy for the Patriots, but his suspension changes the outlook. If it holds up through the grievance that was filed on his behalf, the remaining salary guarantees in his contract might get wiped out, making it easier for the Patriots to cut him and move on. There is no way to know what they are going to do, but they need someone who can actually punt, and maybe even kickoff. Only time will tell if Bailey will be that guy.

The other specialist in the spotlight is pending free agent Joe Cardona, although bringing him back into the mix should not be a challenging thing to do for the Patriots.

Special teams extends beyond the specialists, though, so a quick word on the coverage and return squads as well.

Losing Matthew Slater would really hurt the team. The on-field product theoretically should not dip a ton with Brenden Schooler taking his spot. The Patriots need to find another player like Schooler, though, and possibly a few more guys that can help on special teams as well. After giving up three kickoff return touchdowns the second half of the season, the unit definitely needs some coaching up, regardless of who gets put out there.

With that said, here is what the Patriots’ group of specialists currently looks like:

  • Nick Folk: $2.79 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Jake Bailey: $3.18 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • Tucker Addington: $870,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Quinn Nordin: $705,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

The group also has a pair of free agents:

  • Joe Cardona: Unrestricted free agent
  • Michael Palardy: Unrestricted free agent

One player you will not find on either list is Tristan Vizcaino. As previously mentioned, the Patriots did not offer him a futures contract after the expiration of his practice squad deal. He subsequently returned to the Cowboys but is currently a free agent.

Level of concern: Very high