The final installment of my Roster Analysis looks at Special Teams. Bill Belichick has always emphasized the 3rd phase of the game, Special Teams. He goes so far as to keep at least 4 players that play only Special Teams (K, P, LS, and Gunner). For many players, to make the roster, they must play Special Teams. You will see that in my Pre-Training Camp Roster projection next week. In 2021, the Patriots’ Special Teams performance was extremely sub-par for what has been their normally high standards. They allowed multiple blocked punts and didn’t cover as well as they had in the past. I thought Special Teams coach Cam Achord should have been let go by the team.
A fabulous and very consistent Long Snapper, Lieutenant Junior Grade Cardona, an active duty officer in the Naval Reserve is a seven-year veteran. The 30-year-old graduate of the Naval Academy shows no signs of slowing down. Curiously, the US House of Representatives just passed a Defense Spending bill that has a provision written into it that would require all servicemen and mid-shipmen at the Service Academies to complete their 5-year Military Commitment before they could play professional sports. Is this retroactive or will it affect the ability of Cardona to play for the Patriots? Cardona was recently promoted. Does that add years to his Military Commitment?
The left-footed punter did not have the year he did in 2020. Going into his 4th season, Bailey has been a godsend as a punter. His hang time and accuracy are terrific. Bailey turns 26 next week so age isn’t the issue. His salary might be. Because of his selection to the Pro Bowl in 2021, his salary jumped to $3,986,000, which may be a problem. I think if Bailey was going to be cut for salary reasons, he would have been gone by now. The bonus with Bailey is that he kicks off for the Patriots, saving the veteran Nick Folk’s leg for just FG.
Going into his 11th season in the NFL, Bethel is one of the premier gunners in the league. Putting Bethel on one side and Matthew Slater on the other side gives the Patriots one of the best Special Teams tandems in the league. The question is his age, as Bethel will turn 33 on the 17th. He is one of 4 veteran players I have identified as being cut and re-signed immediately after the 53-man roster is established. If he plays in the 1st game of the season, his salary will be guaranteed for the season.
Davis is another core special teams player and plays on all 4 special teams units. That equals about 36 plays a game. He led the team in special teams tackles last year with 15, of which 9 were solo tackles. The 33-year-old safety is entering his 10th season. He is another vet I see as being cut and re-signed. Davis can actually play safety if needed. He had a terrific college career at Texas Tech with 362 tackles for his career, with 268 being solo tackles. He can play free safety if needed.
Vizcaino has two seasons of kicking in the NFL. He was undrafted out of Washington and signed as an Undrafted Free Agent with Cincinnati in 2018. He played for San Francisco in 2020 and LA Chargers in 2021. The longest Field Goal of his brief career is 47 yards. He is here as a backup in case Folk can’t go. It also gives Vizcaino an opportunity to showcase his abilities for the other 31 teams. It seems every year a team is looking for a kicker coming out of camp.
What can you say about Matthew Slater that hasn’t been already said? Drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, the soon to be 36 year old Slater is entering his 15th season. He was drafted strictly to play special teams. Slater was 1st team All-Pro twice, 2nd team All-Pro twice, and 10-time Pro-Bowl player. In 2017 Slater was selected as the Bart Starr award winner. This award is given to the player that exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community. It is the only league award, other than the Pro Bowl, that is voted on by the players. He also won the Art Rooney award in 2021, in which the National Football League (NFL) recognizes the player that shows outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field. Slater’s character has always been of the highest caliber and when he retires, that will leave a terrific void. He still plays at a high level despite turning 37 in September. He will be a tremendous coach when he retires. It’s like he is a coach on the field. I was so happy that he came back for another year. The highest compliment came from an opposing coach that said he is the only special team player we have to game plan for.
A special team linebacker, his size is critical to the things the Patriots want to do on special teams. He may play some linebacker in pre-season games, but he is strictly a special team player. If he is going to make the team it’s because of what he does on special teams.
Folk will turn 38 during the season and hasn’t slowed down a bit. Last season Folk should have been the Pro Bowl kicker and had an outstanding year. Folk is entering his 15th season in the NFL. He hit on 92.2% of his kicks last season, slightly down from 92.9% in 2021. He had the most FG completed, 36 in his career and 10 more than in 2021. That was 150 points for the year. Is it too much to expect that kind of performance again this season? That is why the team brought in Vizcaino as insurance. Folk kicked a 53-yard FG last season a couple of yards short of his career-long. Curiously, Folk has kicked at least one 50-yard FG in each season of his career.
Mullen was brought in because Jake Bailey had a down year last season. The Michigan State product is insurance only and poses no threat to Bailey. If the team didn’t have salary cap problems (as evident by the 4 open roster spots they have two weeks before the start of Training Camp), the Patriots wouldn’t carry these extra players into camp.
Reiter was set to be in camp as a Long Snapper to provide insurance for Cardona. At first, I thought Cardona might have some military commitment and he was going to miss some time at Training Camp. As noted in my analysis of Cardona, there are some questions about Cardona being able to play for the Patriots! Reiter has since been released.
Quin Nordin (NFI)
Nordin was waived-injured and passed through waivers and automatically goes on IR. As soon as he is healthy he will be waived again. While on Non-Football Injury status, he is not being paid a dime.
Warren Sharps Positional Rankings
I am a big fan of Warren Sharp’s Football Team Analysis and I use his analysis when I provide my highlights of the upcoming opponent each week. He has come out with an analysis ranking by position and it’s very unfavorable for the Patriots.
Offensive Line 17th
Wide Receiver 25th
Front 7 22nd
I disagree with his assessment of the QB. Even though ESPN did not rank Mac Jones in the top 13, I think he should definitely be higher than Trevor Lawrence who was. I would not be surprised if Jones ends up calling his own plays this year. He had a phenomenal rookie year and was better than Tom Brady’s sophomore season after sitting behind Bledsoe for a year.
Runningbacks are unspectacular, but extremely functional, and efficient, and don’t turn the ball over. There is no deeper running back room in the league. Where do the Patriots rank running the ball? They ran it protecting a rookie QB. The O-Line is low as well. They were top 5 last season. Yes, they have a rookie LG but I think they are much better than 17. This is still a run-first offense.
The secondary grade is ok because the cornerback situation is so bad. The Safeties are outstanding.
Bill Belichick is the 5th highest ranked coach? I think this number is so low because of the assistant coaches. Belichick is still the best of all time.
The Wide Receiver group is the #1 costliest in terms of cap $ spent on the position. Yet they are only rated at #25 of 32! That’s poor cap management and irresponsible spending in Free Agency in 2021. Could one of these be a cap casualty and surprise cut in training camp?
N’Keal Harry Trade
The Patriots finally unloaded WR N’Keal Harry to the Chicago Bears. They are one of the few teams that have a worse WR Corp than the Patriots. I can’t believe they got a 7th-round pick for him. Oh, and it is in 2024. What an embarrassment. A 7th for a former 1st-round pick. Harry will go down as the biggest bust in Patriots history. I’m going to do an article taking a re-look at the last four drafts and see who I projected the Patriots should have taken in comparison to who they took. To be fair I will use my articles as a basis rather than just a hindsight view of the drafts. I have read recently that it was Bill Belichick that overruled his scouts and selected Harry.
Harry Salary Cap Savings
Patscap (Miguel Benzan) the guru of the Patriots Salary Cap estimates the Patriots now have $1,266,682 available to them after the Harry trade. Miguel states they will need about $10M for the rest of the season. To get to that number the Patriots are going to either trade off another high-priced asset (Isaiah Wynn / Nelson Agholor) or re-structure some contracts.
Open Roster Spots
The Patriots still have 4 Open roster spots for training camp. It is believed one of those spots is being saved for Dont’a Hightower. The other areas of need look to be DL, LB, and possibly another WR now that Harry is gone.
There is a feeling that players from the AFL are overlooked by the NFL Hall of Fame. I am going to rally for Gino to get recognition by the Hall of Fame. He was the all-time leading scorer in the AFL and he is not in the hall of Fame. He led the league in scoring 5 seasons (tied with Don Huston and Stephen Gostkowski). He was the AFL MVP in 1964 and a 5x All-Star.
Cappelletti actually started his career as a QB in the Canadian Ontario Rugby Football (ORFU) league in 1956. The next year he was drafted into and served in the US ARMY. He returned to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Canada in 1958, but was traded to Saskatchewan Rough Riders and eventually cut. He went back to the Sarnia Bearcats of the ORFU and was out of football in 1959 when he requested a tryout with the Boston Patriots and made the opening day roster of the inaugural Patriots in 1960. During that 1st season, Cappelletti played both K and DB, before switching to WR later that season. He played every snap of all 10 years of the AFL as did George Blanda (HoF Class 1981) and Jim Otto (HoF Class of 1980). He’s the only player in pro football history to run for a two-point conversion, throw for a two-point conversion, catch a pass, intercept a pass, return a punt and return a kickoff in the same season.
1130 Points Scored All Time AFL Leader
4.589 Receiving Yards Top 10 AFL
43 TD Receptions 1TD: 6.95 receptions
176 Field Goals
342 Extra Points
Clark Judge in his article “How a Change In Bylaws Might Bring Gino Cappelletti’s HOF Case to Voters”
https://www.si.com/nfl/talkoffame/nfl/gino-cappelletti-hall-bylaws, Judge stated “Previously, candidates weren’t formally presented to sub-committees as much as they were informally discussed. A list would be read, with voters and consultants urged to make comments on each. I can remember more than once in contributor sub-committee meetings where a candidate was mentioned, little or no discussion followed and we moved on.
If you didn’t know it then, you would soon: That nominee had no chance.
But now each of the last 12 candidates, or semifinalists, will be introduced by a voter, much as the 15 modern-era finalists are each year. Those presentations are limited to five minutes each, with debates to follow, and maybe these will be, too. All I know is that having each of the 12 introduced by voters who advocate for them should enhance the chances of candidates who have been ignored, forgotten, or both. Gino Cappelletti is one of them.”
Stanley Morgan is one of the 2023 veteran’s committee Hall of Fame semi-finalists and is having his candidacy debated.
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