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 18 players left that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is safety and core special teamer Cody Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent and is scheduled to hit the open market on March 15.
Name: Cody Davis
Position: Special teamer/Safety
Jersey number: 22
Opening day age: 34
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Davis started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent signing by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. While his defensive playing time was limited early on in his career, he immediately carved out a spot in the kicking game. During his five years with the organization, his role evolved. He was not just a regular on five of the Rams’ special teams units by 2015, but also saw increased action as a rotational safety during his final two years with the club; Davis played over 500 snaps on defense between 2016 and 2017.
After appearing in a combined 66 regular season and playoff games for the team, Davis joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent in 2018. At that point, his usage began to change a bit: he was no longer used prominently on the defensive side of the ball, but remained a core special teamer. Overall, he was on the field for 32 games as a Jaguar, playing a combined 745 of a possible 866 special teams snaps in 2018 and 2019 (86%). Davis also registered 18 kicking game tackles and one block during his time in Jacksonville.
Davis joined the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and has been with the team ever since. In New England, he was employed similarly to how the Jaguars opted to used him: he was a core special teamer who had virtually no impact on the defensive side of the ball. In total, he has appeared in a combined 37 regular season and playoff games for the organization — ranking among the team leaders in special teams on a weekly basis. All in all, he registered 30 tackles as well as one blocked field goal.
What did his 2022 season look like? Even though the Patriots’ 2021 season was a challenging one from a special teams perspective, the team did not make any changes in regards to one of the group’s core players: Davis stayed put heading into 2022, seemingly enjoying coordinator Cam Achord and head coach Bill Belichick’s trust. That said, the emergence of undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler in particular raised some question about the veteran’s status ahead of roster cutdown day in late August.
At the end of the day, the Patriots kept both men on their roster as key special teamers. As for Davis, he started the year seeing action in the first five games of the season — playing 99 of a possible 119 kicking game snaps over that span (83.2%) and registering a team-high six tackles up until that point. His role was the same it had been ever since his arrival in New England two years prior: he saw action on kickoff and punt coverage, the two return teams, and on the field goal and extra point blocking unit.
Davis was on track for another quality season, but a Week 6 contest against the Cleveland Browns changed his outlook. On his seventh snap that day — trying to cover a kickoff after a Patriots touchdown in the late second quarter — Davis went down without enemy contact and immediately grabbed his left knee. He did walk off under his own power but was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. As it later turned out, he had suffered a major knee injury that required season-ending surgery a short time later.
Davis spent the final 12 weeks of the season on injured reserve, but his 2022 campaign as a whole was still a busy one. On the field, he was a valuable member of a special teams group that sure would have benefitted from his veteran presence down the stretch. Off the field, he was voted NFLPA Community MVP in Week 3. He also agreed to a contract restructure in November that essentially moved 2023 salary cap credit for unearned active roster bonuses into 2022, giving the team an additional $258,824 to work with.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Davis entered the NFL on a three-year free agency deal with the Rams and later signed a two-year extension with the team, totaling $1.5 and $2.9 million, respectively. His biggest contract to date came when he joined the Jaguars on a two-year, $5 million pact in 2018. His contracts with the Patriots, meanwhile, paid him $1.5 million and $4.3 million. All in all, Davis’ career earnings are estimated at $14.89 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? Given that Davis offers little at the safety spot, the expectation is that teams would primarily pursue him for his special teams prowess. Among the clubs possibly interested in him in that capacity are the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins — all teams who performed poorly in the kicking game in 2022.
Why should he be expected back? The Patriots’ special teams had a rough 2022 as well, and losing Davis in Week 6 certainly did not help the unit. Having him around as a seasoned veteran, even with Matthew Slater coming back for another year, would help New England keep a base level of quality at a relatively manageable cost. It might reduce the workload of all the players who had to chip in to help replace Davis after he went down — a group that included safety Adrian Phillips taking on personal punt protector duties.
Why should he be expected to leave? Davis will turn 34 in June and is coming off major injury, which might prompt the team to be skeptical about his outlook for the 2023 season. Add the fact that the Patriots have most of their other core special teamers under contract already, and making an investment in him as well is no guarantee.
What is his projected free agency outcome? The Patriots moving on from Davis very much could be in the cards given the circumstances. However, when looking at the team’s issues in the kicking game in 2022 and his pre-injury performance it would not be a surprise to see them give him another chance. Davis returning on a one-year contract near the minimum $1.17 million salary for a player of his experience — basically a prove-it deal — might be the best course of action for both parties.
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