NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The New England Patriots 2013 campaign was one of attrition. Two captains were lost for the season by Week 6. A total of six starters were lost by the playoffs. And, per the Patriots official site, a collection of 13 players finished the year on injured reserve or the reserve/non-football injury list – excluding injury settlements.
New England’s season-ending injuries consisted of 16 Pro Bowl appearances and over $28.6 million in annual salary, according to Spotrac.com. The assortment consisted of both experience and youth, netting an average age of 26 years old. There were three veterans with at least 10 years of NFL tenure; there were five rookies and first-year players in the mix as well.
Yet now that the season itself has ended and the focus has turned to the offseason, what does it all mean for head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio? What could the future hold?
Let’s revisit the assortment of Patriots set to come off the injured lists.
Josh Boyce, Wide Receiver
A fourth-round pick out of Texas Christian last April, Josh Boyce’s rookie season consisted of nine catches for 121 yards and nine kick returns for 214 yards over nine games, before landing on IR with an ankle injury in early January. The 5’11”, 205-pound 23-year-old didn’t emerge from fellow rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, but he flashed against the Cleveland Browns, garnering three receptions for 49 yards and a key pass-interference penalty late in the fourth quarter. Boyce’s quick, yards-after-catch skillset suits him for the “Z” or inside receiver role, as he’s been able to make plays in space on designed screens and short outs. That said, he was thrust into the “X” spot when injuries shortened the wide receiver position. More will be expected from Boyce in 2014; he was a healthy inactive for five games over the mid-season stretch.
Cory Grissom, Defensive Tackle
Despite making a trip to the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, the 6’2”, 316-pound Cory Grissom went undrafted out of South Florida before signing with the Patriots early last May. The 23-year-old plays with a well-grounded base, which helps him line up from the three-technique to the zero-technique and stop the run. The second-team All-Big East defensive tackle missed the opening days of training camp while nursing a concussion, but he was able to step in and be worthwhile in New England’s preseason games. Though, in the preseason finale, he suffered a high ankle sprain and was put on IR. Grissom provides value for the Patriots and figures to be back battling for a roster spot next summer. He has two years remaining on his contract.
Rob Gronkowski, Tight End
After working his way back from offseason back and forearm surgeries, two-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 2013 came to a close on a helmet-to-knee blow versus the Browns, tearing his ACL and MCL. The Patriots were forced to adjust with more “12” personnel with tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui or Matthew Mulligan, as well as fullback James Develin and either LeGarrette Blount or Stevan Ridley. Yet in reality, replacing his double-team draws and end-zone size was an uphill climb – it was a climb that relied on receiving back Shane Vereen. Ultimately, the 6’6” 265-pound 24-year-old finished the season with 39 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. He is under contract through 2019, but it’s expected that the Patriots will bolster the tight end depth via the draft with his health uncertain for the start of next season.
Tommy Kelly, Defensive Tackle
After nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders, 6’6”, 310-pound defensive tackle Tommy Kelly joined the Patriots in the hopes of making his first playoff appearance. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old one-time Pro Bowler was unable to do so healthy, falling to injured reserve with a knee injury retroactive to the Cincinnati Bengals game. Kelly provided pass-rush from the inside of the line, particularly at the three-technique, amassing 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in only five games. The 2004 undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State is due $3 million in 2014, but it remains to be seen if he will be back.
Jerod Mayo, Linebacker
The Patriots lost two-time Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo against the New Orleans Saints, as the linebacker tore a pectoral muscle. The 6’1”, 250-pound team captain posted 55 tackles and 1.5 sacks in only six games, and his absence stamped the green dot on Dont’a Hightower’s helmet, while also incorporating Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins during 3-4 alignments. The 27-year-old weak-side linebacker is under contract through 2017, holding some security for New England’s second level.
T.J. Moe, Wide Receiver
After going undrafted out of Missouri, the 6’0”, 200-pound T.J. Moe signed on with the Patriots. But during organized team activities in the spring, the wide receiver tore his Achilles and was subsequently waived before latching onto IR. Moe is under contract through 2015-2016 and was given a $30,000 signing bonus – indicative of his value as a UDFA. For what it’s worth, he ran the fastest three-cone time of a wideout at last February’s NFL Scouting Combine and snared 92 passes in 2010 when current Jacksonville Jaguar Blaine Gabbert was the Tigers quarterback.
Brandon Spikes, Linebacker
Brandon Spikes’ season – and perhaps his Patriots career – ended against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, as the 2010 second-round linebacker aggravated his preexisting meniscus injury while attempting to tackle Buffalo tailback C.J. Spiller. When the 6’2”, 255-pound 26-year-old was placed on IR some seven days later, it came as a surprise due to the idle period between transactions. But regardless of how and why it all transpired, the enigmatic run-stopper is set to become an unrestricted free agent this March and is unlikely to return, despite grading out as the top run-stopping inside linebacker in 2013, per Pro Football Focus. The Florida product tallied 86 tackles, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and an interception this year. His strong-side snaps were replaced primarily by Collins against the Indianapolis Colts, who played his best all-around game as a pro.
Sebastian Vollmer, Offensive Tackle
Sebastian Vollmer was lost for the season on a strong-side power run against the Dolphins in Week 8. The 6’8”, 315-pound right tackle was sent down face first, and it was later learned that New England’s 2009 second-round pick had a broken bone in his right leg. The 52-game starter enjoying a standout year was supplanted by 2011 fifth-rounder Marcus Cannon for much of the duration, who performed well. But losing Vollmer inevitably impacted the in-pocket time allotted for Tom Brady, and the depth of the passing routes. The 29-year-old German native is under contract through 2016-2017 after re-signing last offseason.
Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle
The 2013 season of All-Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork came to an abrupt end in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons, as the 6’2”, 325-pounder ruptured his Achilles tendon. And with that, the Patriots defensive front was forced to adapt without his leadership, versatility, pocket push and run enforcement. The 32-year-old is under contract through next season; however, he is also set to earn $7.5 million – a considerable sum, especially given the severity of his injury. The 10-year vet has been vital to the Patriots since he took over the starting job in 2005, although restructuring or extending his contract would be a logical move. New England could very well draft a defensive tackle early this May, providing depth alongside Wilfork and young interior linemen Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano.
Adrian Wilson, Safety
Five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson signed on with the Patriots last offseason after a dozen seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. A linebacker-sized defensive back at 6’3”, 230 pounds, the 34-year-old was competing for a roster spot and “Money” duties when placed on injured reserve during the final Aug. 31 cuts. His last playing time came in the second half of New England’s preseason finale, but Wilson later announced via Twitter that he had undergone Achilles surgery. Due over $3.6 million through the next two seasons, his future with the Patriots is very much up in the air. The strong safety depth chart includes starter Steve Gregory, 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon, 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson, and also 2012 sixth-round special-teamer Nate Ebner.
Markus Zusevics, Offensive Tackle
An Iowa product who went undrafted largely due to a pectoral tear suffered at the 2012 combine, Markus Zusevics has been in New England’s wings for the last two seasons. The 6’5”, 300-pound offensive tackle was activated to the 53-man roster from the reserve/non-football injury list in November of his rookie season but did not appear in a game. And on Aug. 26 of 2013, the 24-year-old was placed on IR, ending his second season. Zusevics has seen reps at both tackle and guard for the Patriots. He is under contract through next year.
Armond Armstead, Defensive Tackle
Once seen as a potential Day 1 or Day 2 draft pick, the future of former USC defensive tackle Armond Armstead was cast in doubt after suffering a heart attack in March of 2011. When cleared to return, medical concerns left him undrafted. The 6’5”, 305-pounder found a home as a member of the Toronto Argonauts in 2012, however, totaling 43 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles. And since signing with New England last February, mysterious lore has followed him. The team announced that the 23-year-old underwent surgery to treat an infection between OTAs and training camp. But he did not return to the field before the reserve/non-football injury designation deadline expired. If Armstead is 100 percent, he has tremendous pass-rushing upside from the five-technique and three-technique. He is under contract through the 2015-2016 season.
Mark Harrison, Wide Receiver
A 6’3”, 230-pound wideout by way of the Rutgers pipeline, Mark Harrison signed with the Patriots after going undrafted and failing a physical with the Chicago Bears. The contingency was a broken fifth metatarsal bone suffered while working out for his pro day. And that contingency continued to hamper him after agreeing to terms with the Patriots, as the team kept him on NFI for the duration of the season. The 23-year-old has the measurables – 35-inch arms, a 38.5-inch vertical leap, and sub-4.5 40-yard dash speed – to be an overmatching outside target in the NFL. He was essentially redshirted as a rookie, however, saving the Patriots financially and personnel-wise with three rookie wideouts on the 53-man roster. Two years are left on his rookie deal.