Ten days before their first scheduled training camp practice, the New England Patriots already have lost one-tenth of their 80-man roster.
Tight end Matt LaCosse on Sunday became the eighth Patriots player to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns. Four of those have been offensive skill-position players, with wide receiver Marqise Lee opting out Saturday and running back Brandon Bolden and fullback Danny Vitale doing so earlier in the week. (The others were linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and guard Najee Toran.)
With so much sudden turnover, here’s a refresher on the roster battles at each of those four positions, which could change as the Patriots fill their six open roster spots. (Players are listed in alphabetical order. Rookies are italicized.)
LaCosse is coming off a disappointing first season in New England (13 catches, 131 yards, one touchdown in 11 games) but would have been the favorite to open the season as the Patriots’ starting tight end. This group now consists of four rookies and Izzo, who’s appeared in just six career NFL games.
Asiasi and Keene have exciting potential as third-round draft picks, but with no spring practice or preseason games, it could take them a little while to find their footing. We’re also not sure if the Patriots view Berry, who played both ways at Ohio State, as a tight end or an edge rusher.
This group really could use an established veteran or two. Free agent tight ends currently available include Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, Jeff Heuerman and Charles Clay.
Lee’s opt-out removed one contestant from one of this summer’s more intriguing roster battles. The former Jacksonville Jaguar was poised to duke it out with Byrd, Hastings, Meyers, Olszewski and Thomas for one of the final two or three spots behind Edelman, Harry, Sanu and special teams captain Slater. Adeboyejo and Ross look like long shots.
Bolden’s absence will be felt more on special teams than on offense, but he did contribute a career-high four offensive touchdowns last season. Him being gone greatly increases 5-foot-5 UDFA Taylor’s chances of making the team.
Johnson is the Patriots’ lone remaining fullback, but we wouldn’t consider the second-year International Pathway Program product a roster lock. Keene and Burt also could see fullback reps in training camp.