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With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 80 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we are taking 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.

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Today, the series continues with defensive tackle Bill Murray.

Hard facts
Name: Bill Murray

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 97

Opening day age: 24

Size: 6-foot-3, 295 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)

Experience
What is his experience? Murray originally arrived in the NFL back in 2020, when the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent shortly after he went unselected in the draft. He went on to spend his entire first season as a pro on the team’s practice squad, not seeing any in-game action. But while his experience at the NFL level is therefore limited to behind-the-scenes and practice work, the youngster has played a lot of football during his five-year career at William & Mary between 2015 and 2019.

Murray had a quiet start to his college career, redshirting during his first season with the Tribe and serving only in a rotational role in 2016. By his sophomore year, however though, he had been able to earn a starting job along the defensive line and never looked back. Murray thus went on to finish his time at the school with 40 in-game appearances as well as 19 sacks from his defensive tackle position. He also blocked an impressive 10 kicks in four seasons and was named second team All-CAA in both 2018 and 2019.

What did his 2020 season look like? Despite an impressive senior campaign at William & Mary that saw him get named to the All-CAA team for a second year in a row, Murray flew under the radar entering the draft. He eventually went undrafted, and had to go the free agency route. The Patriots eventually picked him up on the open market, and they made him their second-highest compensated UDFA that year: Murray received $125,000 in contractual guarantees, including a $10,000 signing bonus.

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Nonetheless, he entered a difficult situation in New England. With the Coronavirus pandemic forcing teams to move their offseason preparation to a virtual forum, and with no preseason games being played, Murray had limited opportunities to showcase his talents. His release as part of the Patriots’ roster cutdowns was therefore no surprise. However, the team decided to keep him around by signing him to its practice squad. Murray went on to spend the entire 2020 season on New England’s developmental roster.

2021 preview
What is his projected role? Murray was primarily used as a defensive tackle in college and he reprised that role after arriving in New England. While he did not see any in-game action as a rookie, his first ever preseason snaps this year have seen him move between various alignments — most prominently on the nose or either the 1- or 3-technique spots. He projects to offer depth behind the Patriots’ starter-level defensive tackles. His upside appears to come primarily as a sub-package pass rusher who will receive only limited run-game looks.

What is his special teams value? Through two preseason games as a Patriot, Murray has played 12 snaps in the kicking game. He was used not just on the field goal and extra point blocking teams as his defensive role would suggest, but also saw action on the two kickoff squads: he played on both the kick coverage (8 snaps) and kick return teams (1) besides being used as a pressure player on place kicks (3). His special teams role is rather versatile for an interior defensive lineman.

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Does he have positional versatility? While his lack of outstanding athletic traits might limit his overall success and usage at the next level, the Patriots seem willing to give Murray plenty of opportunities this preseason. Not only was he used on three special teams units, he also regularly moved between alignments along the defensive line. Primarily an interior player, Murray also played edge on a few select snaps. New England’s coaches apparently trust him to wear multiple hats in their hybrid front.

What is his salary cap situation? After their 2020 season came to an end, the Patriots decided to re-sign Murray to a one-year reserve/futures pact. That deal has a pretty straight-forward structure: his $660,000 base salary also equals his cap number. At the moment, however, Murray does not count against New England’s books under the league’s Top-51 rule. He will only hit the cap if he makes the 53-man roster.

What is his roster outlook? Murray has seen some prominent action so far this preseason — he was on the field for 60 snaps between defense and special teams — and has had plenty of success as a pass rusher. However, the Patriots are very deep along their interior D-line and there does not appear to be a spot on the roster for the 24-year-old. Instead, Murray appears to be a realistic candidate to be released on cutdown day and added to the practice squad yet again if he clears waivers.

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The New England Patriots made a minor trade for Yasir Durant, acquiring some additional muscle for the O-line.
In the midst of roster cuts, at least one player went the other way, as the New England Patriots traded a seventh-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for offensive lineman Yasir Durant. That seems like a bit of an oddball move at roster cutdown time, given that there are certain to be many offensive linemen available for the taking on the waiver wire.

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Durant is a 6-foot-6, 331-pound offensive lineman who has played both guard and tackle, with experience on both the left and right side of the line. He looks like he might fit in well with the Patriots other big men like Trent Brown, who comes in at 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds at right tackle as well as second year man Michael Onwenu, who is listed at a trim 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds.

Part of the theme of the 2021 Patriots is not to baffle anyone, but to come right at their opponents and overpower them at the line while pounding them with a cadre of running backs. It’s not very mysterious. Durant will fit right in.

Chiefs are trading OL Yasir Durant to the New England Patriots in exchange for the Patriots’ 2022 seventh-round draft pick, according to a source.

Durant joined the Chiefs in 2020 as an undrafted free agent.

— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) August 31, 2021

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The 23-year-old was a junior college transfer who played in the SEC with the Missouri Tigers for his last two years in college. At Mizzou, he played left tackle and was outstanding.

In 2018, by Pro Football Focus‘ estimation, Durant allowed just eight pressures, the fewest of any SEC offensive tackle while protecting Drew Lock.

After signing as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs, he split time between right guard and tackle with them last season.

However, Durant was not a star in 2020. He was thrust onto the scene when the Chiefs’ iron man right tackle Mitchell Schwartz went down with injuries and replacement Mike Remmers also got banged up. Durant did not play particularly well, but he did receive 91 snaps in regular-season games. He also played a few snaps in the playoffs and the Super Bowl on special teams.

Will he make an immediate impact with the Patriots? Probably not. There’s really no room for him. But wouldn’t you rather have a player of Durant’s versatility and potential over a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft?

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New Patriots debuting at practice today: WR Malcolm Perry (No. 19), FB Ben Mason, QB Garrett Gilbert, LB Jahlani Tavai, OL Yasir Durant.

Mason, Gilbert and Tavai are on the practice squad.

LB Harvey Langi also is back after being cut yesterday.

C David Andrews is limited. pic.twitter.com/ZJQyyeqInK

— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 2, 2021

What’s a seventh-round pick actually worth anyway? Analytics experts differ as to the value of a it, although in recent years the trend has been to devalue the seventh round. The reason is that it’s so close to the unlimited pool of undrafted free agents who may be signed and cut much more freely, and thus are much better to manage.

In fact, there’s legitimate belief that seventh-round picks have negative value. As a thought experiment, which would you rather have? In one case, you can draft a player in the seventh round, indoctrinate him into the Patriot Way, and give him all the instruction possible for the entire spring and summer. Alternatively, you can sign an undrafted free agent, and if you do not like him, you can wait until the end of August and choose another player on waiver wire after watching film from preseason games around the NFL. And if you don’t like that player, you can cut him and take a replacement player at any time. Which is better?

In theory, the team is just as free to cut the seventh-round pick as a UDFA, but psychologically teams are committed to them because they were once considered an “asset” and they wind up occupying a valuable roster spot that they usually don’t deserve. Hence, most of the time, the seventh-round pick actually has negative value unless the general manager is totally immune to the need to save face, which history suggests is not true.

A look at the ins and outs of the Yasir Durant trade and why it’s a solid move for both the #Chiefs and Patriots. https://t.co/ahFRDeE5Td

— Arrowhead Addict (@ArrowheadAddict) August 31, 2021

Bill Belichick, though his best drafting comes in the later rounds, doesn’t necessarily need seventh-rounders because of the tremendous job he does on the undrafted free agent market. The Patriots have signed an undrafted free agent to their 53-man roster in 12 straight seasons. Unreal.

That’s why the Patriots will not miss a seventh-round pick very much. A free roster spot is worth about as much, if not more. On top of that, Durant offers flexibility on the offensive line and appears to be someone who will get better in the next two or three seasons. He can help the team considering he will be receiving the best tutelage out there. Another win-win for Belichick.

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens traded rookie cornerback Shaun Wade to the New England Patriots for a couple of draft picks on Thursday.

The Ravens received a seventh-round pick in 2022 and a fifth-rounder in 2023, a source told ESPN. The seventh-round pick is the one the Patriots acquired from the Houston Texans for tight end Ryan Izzo.

Wade, a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State, was not going to make the Ravens’ 53-man roster next week after being passed on the depth chart by Chris Westry. The Ravens decided to get some picks for Wade because they figured he wouldn’t clear waivers and make it to their practice squad.

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The Patriots have been thin at cornerback, with No. 1 option Stephon Gilmore (quad) still on the physically unable to perform list, and he also has expressed the desire to have his contract addressed.

In Gilmore’s absence, the team has had J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills as the starters, with Jonathan Jones in the slot. Joejuan Williams, a 2019 second-round draft choice who has yet to start an NFL game, is next on the depth chart.

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Jones, the team’s top slot corner, has been in and out of practice over the past week.

Considered a first-round prospect entering the 2020 season, Wade had a rocky senior season and plummeted to the 160th pick in this year’s draft.