With the third phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with running back and special teamer Brandon Bolden.
Name: Brandon Bolden
Position: Running back/Special teamer
Jersey number: 25
Opening day age: 31
Size: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? Even though he went unselected in the 2012 NFL draft and the team had just invested two mid-round picks at the running back position the previous offseason, Bolden was able to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster as a rookie — the start of an impressive career for the Ole Miss product: over the course of the nine seasons since, he has appeared in 114 regular season games as well as 16 playoff contests and established himself as one of the league’s better special teamers.
With the exception of a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018, Bolden spent his entire professional career in New England. While he was only irregularly featured in a prominent role at his listed position — Bolden has 303 touches on his Patriots résumé for 1,547 yards and 13 touchdowns — and was even released on two separate occasions, he became a reliable presence on the team’s kicking game units and as such helped the organization win two Super Bowls to cap the 2014 and the 2016 seasons.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off one of the best seasons of his NFL career, Bolden was again expected to play a prominent role on New England’s special teams units heading into 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic, however, changed this outlook and led to him taking a different path: Bolden was among a league-high eight Patriots to exercise his right to opt out of the season due to concerns about the virus. He made his decision official in late July, and subsequently sat out the entire year.
As a result of the opt-out, which was classified as high-risk and therefore paid him a $350,000 stipend, his deal tolled into 2021. Bolden therefore remained under contract with the Patriots for another season instead of entering unrestricted free agency following his 2020 campaign. Even before New England’s season came to an end in early January, Bolden took to social media to already announce his intentions to return to the team once his one-year Covid-19 opt-out was over.
What is his projected role? While listed as a running back and projected to see occasional action as either a receiving option out of the backfield or a short-yardage/goal-line back, Bolden’s primary role will once again lie in the kicking game. Despite coming off his Coronavirus opt-out, he will see regular action on the Patriots’ special teams units — on both coverage, return and block teams — and be a realistic candidate to again rank among New England’s leaders in playing time and tackles.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots have never shied away from giving Bolden regular looks on special teams, and he has generally responded well to a hefty workload. Before his opt-out, for example, his playing time was evenly distributed between punt and kickoff units —he played as a protector and force player, respectively — as well as the two coverage teams. Over the second half of the 2019 season, he also received regular action as a rusher on field goal and extra point blocking teams. All in all, Bolden is a jack-of-all-trades in the kicking game.
Does he have positional versatility? Bolden’s positional versatility on special teams is well documented, and he has proven himself a successful player no matter the roles he is asked to play. He also has shown an ability to play from various alignments as a running back, though: while the 31-year-old spent most of his time in the backfield in 2019, he was moved to the slot or the perimeter on occasion as well and actually ended up playing more snaps in passing situations than running plays.
What is his salary cap situation? With his contract tolling into the 2021 season due to his opt-out, Bolden is now entering the final season of the two-year deal he signed with the Patriots in free agency last spring. The veteran will therefore be on the team’s books with a salary cap number of $1.99 million — including a $500,000 guarantee in the form of his signing bonus proration. Releasing the veteran during roster cutdowns and accounting for another player taking his spot on the team would result in cap savings of roughly $500,000.
What is his roster outlook? Bolden has been a valuable member of the Patriots for most of the past decade, but he is not guaranteed a spot on the 2021 roster coming off his Coronavirus opt-out. His time away in combination with age and competition makes for a challenging environment, after all. Bolden can still help the team as an experienced depth option at running back and five-unit special teamer, but he will have to show that he is still worthy of being kept on the active team over other players who are younger and less expensive than he is.