The New England Patriots signed a total of four free agents between their first and second preseason games.

One of them was Ezekiel Elliott, the former Dallas Cowboys star who now projects as the top backup for Rhamondre Stevenson.

The other three — running back C.J. Marable, offensive lineman Micah Vanterpool and linebacker Carson Wells — weren’t nearly as recognizable as Elliott. But they all had one key fact in common.

Marable and Vanterpool both played in the United States Football League (USFL) before joining the Patriots. Wells played in the other upstart spring league, the XFL.

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That wasn’t a coincidence.

Head coach Bill Belichick spoke at length Monday about why, when searching for roster depth at this stage of the NFL calendar, USFL and XFL alums often are more enticing than comparable free agents who did not play in those leagues.

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“If you need depth at a certain position, generally what you see throughout the league is teams would try out anywhere between three to six, seven players at that position,” Belichick explained in a video conference. “It’s pretty obvious that they’re looking for someone to play that spot, and a lot of those players don’t have very much experience. Either they’re rookies to first-year players or are in another league. So a lot of the times, those workouts have an effect on bringing in the player at this time.

“If you bring in a player right now, he needs to be kind of ready to go. It’s not like you have time to have a month of training with them and all that. If you sign a player in February, that would be different. I would say the workout, the conditioning, the fact that it looks like the player’s ready to go, works in his favor in terms of signing a player in that situation. The players that are coming from that league probably have a little bit of an advantage, in that they’re in good condition, they’ve been playing, their techniques or whatever at their position they’ve been working on, and they are maybe a little more proficient on those.

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“Sometimes, after those workouts, the conversation is somewhere along the lines of, ‘Well, this guy probably would be a better player or a better guy to work with, but he’s just not in good condition. He’s just not ready to go. This other guy is ready to go, he’s in good shape, his fundamentals are pretty good.’ Again, we understand what the players are — they’re available. It gives them an opportunity, kind of, I would say, to take the time and the skills they’ve been doing in the spring, and as long as they’ve been continuing to work and stay on top of that, a lot of the times they just look better than the other guys you’re comparing them to.

“I think it definitely gives them an advantage.”

Belichick said having recent game film on a player helps, too, especially since most spring league participants weren’t on active NFL rosters last season. He pointed to Patriots defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms as a recent success story.

Pharms, a small-school product played for the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers before joining the Patriots last July, didn’t make the 53-man roster but spent the entire 2022 season on New England’s practice squad. The 26-year-old still is with New England and had some nice moments in Saturday night’s preseason game against Green Bay.

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“Pharms is a good example last year, a guy that came in, was in good shape, played well, played hard, was productive, and his career is still continuing,” Belichick said. “Guys like that, they are able to take advantage of that opportunity, so that’s been good for players like that, to get that extra shot.”

Time will tell whether any of the Patriots’ three recent additions can stick around as long as Pharms has. Marable and Vanterpool both dressed but did not play against the Packers. Wells got 17 snaps on defense and four on special teams, recording one tackle.

The Patriots will close out the preseason this Friday night against the Tennessee Titans. Roster cutdown day is next Tuesday.

Featured image via Thomas Shea/USA TODAY Sports Images