NFL

UDFA tracker: Why have the Patriots not signed any rookie free agents?

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The New England Patriots have had multiple success stories come out of undrafted free agency over the years. From cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and Randall Gay, to starting center David Andrews, to core special teamers Brandon King and Brandon Bolden, New England has repeatedly been able to find diamonds in the rough.

This year, however, it seems as if the club has looked at the rookie free agent market and simply said, “Nah, we’re good.”

More than 30 hours after the end of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots have yet to sign any undrafted players — making them the only team in the league to not pick up at least one UDFA. On average, the other 31 teams in the league have already handed out seven reported deals to prospects that have not heard their names called during the draft.

So, what is going on in New England? Let’s try to find out.

Theory No. 1: The shallow rookie pool. Last year, a total of 1,932 players declared for the NFL Draft. With the Coronavirus pandemic having impacted the college football season and pre-draft preparation over the last 15 months, however, only 657 prospects were eligible this year. With 259 of them getting drafted, only a fraction of normal years remained available on the open market. In turn, the quality simply might not have been there to attract the Patriots — especially considering…

Theory No. 2: The deep roster. After selecting eight players during the draft and releasing quarterback Jake Dolegala, the Patriots were left with only six open spots on the roster. One will be freed up after Patrick Chung’s retirement is officially processed after June 2, but that still leaves a deep team with few spots to fill. As a result, any rookie free agent added would only have an outside chance of earning regular practice time with the starting group and in turn crack either the roster or even practice squad. So, why bother filling those open spots — especially when there is a chance to get a more extensive look at some candidates first. Speaking of that…

Theory No. 3: Rookie minicamp. Even in the age of Covid-19, teams will be allowed to hold rookie minicamps this month. They also will be allowed to bring in rookie free agents on a tryout basis. While there are limitations compared to normal years — teams can only invite five such players per NFL rules — the Patriots might simply opt to bring those five in, get a look at them, and then make decisions. Given the first theory mentioned above, this patient approach would make sense given…

Theory No. 4: Finances. Even before the draft is officially over teams are working the phone lines to negotiate with players potentially going undrafted. This process is an arms race of sorts: teams will offer contract and guaranteed money in order to lure player in, at times making rookie free agency more lucrative for first-year players than getting drafted in one of the later rounds. Of course, the Patriots might have decided to sit out this scramble for talent in order to spend wisely rather than quickly (i.e. possibly after rookie minicamp).

Each player situation is unique, meaning that not all four of those theories can necessarily be applied to the Patriots’ decision making process. On a grand scale of things, however, it does not seem unlikely that all of them have played a role in New England thus far sitting out rookie free agency — at least when it comes to the reported contracts they have offered at this point time.

Of course, we can also not forget one thing: the Patriots do not like to do their business out in the open. While signings oftentimes get leaked before they become official, the matter of fact is that New England might have already signed some players without the information leaving One Patriot Place yet.

At the end of the day, there is therefore no need to worry about the team possibly missing out on talent. The roster is already deep to begin with, and UDFAs added will face a steep hill to climb anyway.

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