Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 21 players that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is long snapper Joe Cardona, who is an unrestricted free agent and is scheduled to hit the open market on March 15.
Name: Joe Cardona
Position: Long snapper
Jersey number: 49
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6-foot-2, 245 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Following a four-year career at the Naval Academy, Cardona heard his name called in the fifth round of the 2015 draft when the Patriots invested the 166th overall selection in him — the second-highest draft choice ever spent on a pure long snapper. The investment was a good one from New England’s perspective, though: ever since joining the club, Cardona has served as its undisputed long snapper and proved himself a reliable presence among the team’s specialists.
Despite serving double-duty as a member of both the Patriots and the Navy reserve, Cardona missed only three games over his eight years in the NFL — all because of a season-ending injury in 2022. All in all, he has appeared in a combined 140 regular season and playoff games since arriving in New England and has helped the team win two Super Bowls. Along the way, Cardona snapped the football a total of 1,276 times on field goal attempts, extra point tries and punt plays.
What did his 2022 season look like? Coming off yet another successful individual campaign, Cardona was virtually locked into the Patriots’ long snapper gig heading into the 2022 season. The team did sign undrafted free agent Ross Reiter to its 90-man offseason roster, but the rookie failed to seriously challenge the incumbent and was released ahead of training camp. From that point on and until he was moved to injured reserve in late December, he was the only long snapper on New England’s active roster.
He ended up seeing action in the Patriots’ first 14 games of the season in that capacity, and was on the field for 128 of a possible 379 kicking game snaps (33.8%) over that span. However, Cardona popped up on the injury report leading into the team’s Week 15 game in Las Vegas because of an ankle injury: he had suffered a partial tendon tear in his foot the previous game against the Arizona Cardinals. He decided to play through the issue against both the Cardinals and Raiders but ended up aggravating the issue.
As a result of the tendon fully tearing, New England was forced to place Cardona on injured reserve after the Raiders game — forcing him to miss game action for the first time in his career, and to end his season on the sidelines. Up until that point, he had been his usual reliable self; his accuracy and snap velocity were both at a high level throughout the year and he performed consistently regardless of the conditions he was forced to snap in. Only a handful of his 128 snaps were slightly off the mark, with none of them qualifying as “bad.”
While the Patriots’ special teams units as a whole had a rough time in 2022 — the unit gave up three kickoff return touchdowns, for example — Cardona himself was as steady as any player on the roster before his injury. Not only did he help kicker Nick Folk make a combined 58 of 63 field goal and extra point attempts (92.1%), he also showed some good chemistry with the team’s changing cast of characters at punter. Folk, Jake Bailey and Michael Palardy struggled with consistency in 2022, it does not look like Cardona had a hand in that.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Cardona signed a standard four-year contract with the Patriots upon his arrival in 2015, but he already received a new deal before his old one was up. During the 2018 offseason, the two sides reached an agreement on a four-year, $4.31 million extension through 2022 — a deal that made him one of the highest-paid long snappers in the NFL. In total, Over the Cap estimates that Cardona has earned $7.14 million in contractual money through his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Several teams might have to deal with change at the long snapper position this offseason, and some among them might have an eye on Cardona. Those include the Houston Texans, who are led by former Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Other teams to possibly consider him include the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks.
Why should he be expected back? Cardona has been a reliable member of the Patriots’ kicking game operation going all the way back to 2015. With questions at kicker and punter, keeping him around would ensure a baseline level of performance while also giving the team some experienced special teams leadership — something that might be needed with long-time stalwarts such as Matthew Slater and Cody Davis facing an uncertain future.
Why should he be expected to leave? Long snappers can be a dime a dozen, and despite Cardona’s impressive résumé the Patriots might decide to roll with a cheaper option. They do have one of the roster already in Tucker Addington, who was added ahead of Cardona’s injury and eventually ended up filling in for him. Addington carries a cap hit of just $870,000 in 2023; Cardona would cost more than that.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Despite his foot injury, age and Addington being under contract, the Patriots should be expected to bring Cardona back. The terms of a potential new deal remain to be seen, but a four-year pact with a total value of around $5.2 million might just do the trick.
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