The news did not necessarily come as a surprise given how his 2022 season ended, but it was still a big move for the New England Patriots: they released former All-Pro punter Jake Bailey just seven months after signing him to a contract extension.
Bailey had never been able to return to the form he showed in 2020, with his final season a massive disappointment. Not only did he struggle when on the field, he also was sidelined due to a back injury and eventually suspended by the team to close out the season; he subsequently filed a grievance against the decision, all but ending his Patriots career in the process.
With Bailey now out the door, what remains are questions about what all of this means for the team. So, let’s try to answer them.
The punter market is worth keeping an eye on. As of right now, the Patriots have nobody on their team to punt the football. Obviously, though, they still have plenty of time to address the need — either by signing a free agent, adding a rookie or, less likely, swinging a trade.
The free agent market is not necessarily filled with outstanding talent. New England could opt to bring back Michael Palardy, but he had a rough 2022 as Bailey’s replacement. Additionally, Riley Dixon and Andy Lee might be targeted: they averaged 48.4 and 47.1 yards per punt last season, respectively, ranking 11th and 15th in the NFL.
If they truly want to get better and find a long-term solution, however, the Patriots will have to look to the draft. The top prospects include Oklahoma’s Michael Turk, Rutgers’ Adam Korsak, and Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer.
The Patriots need more than just a new punter. Bailey’s main responsibility since joining the team in the fifth round of the 2019 draft was punting the football, but he also filled two other roles in the kicking game operation: he was a kickoff specialist, who had a 53.5-percent touchback rate on his career, and a holder on field goals and extra point tries.
The latte role will likely go to whoever is brought in as his replacement. The kickoff job, however, is more intriguing. Traditionally in New England, it was filled by the place kicker but incumbent Nick Folk had a difficult time performing the duty last season. Folk, of course, is also no lock to return.
New England’s entire special teams operation might look different in 2023. Speaking of Bailey’s release and Folk’s uncertain future, their positions are not the only question marks: long snapper Joe Cardona, coming off a season-ending foot injury, also is an unrestricted free agent. While him returning is expected, there is a chance that the Patriots have to start from scratch entirely in their kicking game operation.
New England loses cap space due to the move, at least in 2023. As outlined by Miguel Benzan, the Patriots’ 2023 salary cap has been negatively impacted by cutting Bailey. The team’s current cap number is $65,000 smaller post-release despite the punter’s $3.175 million cap hit no longer on the books.
With his dead money at $2.37 million and a new player at a $870,000 salary replacing him in the top-51, however, the transaction ends as a net negative — at least at this point in time. Fact is, after all, that Bailey’s cap hits are off the books in both 2024 and 2025, resulting in gains of $3.79 million in both of those years.
All eyes are now on Jack Jones. Bailey’s release was likely a direct result of his suspension and subsequence grievance filed against the Patriots. This means that cornerback Jack Jones is now in the spotlight as well given that he too was suspended to end the 2022 season.
The situation is a bit different when it comes to the 2022 fourth-round draft pick — he did not contest his suspension and was fined primarily because of tardiness in his recovery — the bottom line is still the same. As a consequence, there are questions surrounding Jones’ status moving forward.
Only 10 players are now signed through 2025. The Patriots entered Friday with 11 players on their team signed through 2025. With Bailey, who would have been in the final year of his contract that season, now gone, that number is down to 10.
Who are those 10 players? The 10 members of New England’s 2022 draft class.