Who will kick field goals for the New England Patriots when they open their 2020 regular season this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins?
If Bill Belichick knows, he’s not telling.
As cutdown day came and went this past weekend, the Patriots made the unorthodox decision to include zero kickers on their initial 53-man roster but sign two — veteran Nick Folk and rookie fifth-round draft pick Justin Rohrwasser — to their practice squad.
Spots on the roster likely will be vacated this week as the Patriots shift banged-up players — defensive tackle Beau Allen and/or running back Damien Harris, perhaps — to injured reserve.
Belichick was asked Monday whether he plans to promote the 35-year-old Folk, who clearly outperformed the 23-year-old Rohrwasser during the second half of training camp, to fill one of those openings.
“Nick?s come in and obviously done a good job with us, because we?ve put him on the practice squad and want to continue to work with him,” Belichick said. “So we?ll take it from there and see how it goes. But he?s done a good job and hit the ball well. Justin has, as well. Certainly, there?s a big experience gap here, but that?s not uncommon, either. So we?ll just try to make the best decisions we can on that.
“We?re fortunate we have two players at that position that are, I would say, NFL-quality. Similar to the quarterback position. We?re fortunate to have depth in those spots.”
Promoting Folk would be the simplest solution. But the Patriots also could use a more creative strategy at the kicker position.
Under new NFL rules implemented for this season, teams are permitted to temporarily elevate up to two players from their practice squad for each game. These players then could return to the practice squad without needing to pass through waivers.
Each player can be elevated twice — to call him up a third time, the team would need to add him to the 53-man roster — and not in consecutive weeks. These elevations can occur on game day, as long as they take place more than 90 minutes before kickoff.
So, the Patriots theoretically could elevate Folk (or Rohrwasser) for Sunday’s game, then return him to the practice squad after the final whistle, allowing them to enter the season without a kicker on their 53.
This would be a temporary solution, of course, as the same kicker could not play in Weeks 1 and 2 without being given a roster spot. But if Belichick felt comfortable with both of his options, he could rotate them for the first month the season (Folk in Weeks 1 and 3, Rohrwasser in Weeks 2 and 4, or vice versa) without devoting a roster spot to the position.
Is that rotation approach likely? No. But it would be allowed under the NFL’s new practice squad regulations.
Speaking generally, Belichick said these new policies did influence how the Patriots constructed their initial roster.
“I think it played a factor,” the Patriots coach said. “It was a factor for us, and I think it was a factor for most teams in the league. It looks like to me that there will be players that will play in the game that are on the practice squad that will be elevated to a 54th or 55th position (on the roster).
“So it does increase the roster flexibility, and it looks to me like — I haven?t looked at every roster and seen the strategy and so forth — but my guess would be that there will be a lot of teams using players from their practice squad on Opening Day as a 54th or 55th player. It does give you some flexibility, and that played a part in some of our roster decisions.”
Belichick also said he expects to see a “significant number of player transactions” in the coming days as teams tweak their rosters.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images