Patriots

How WR Damiere Byrd can be a difference-maker for Patriots in 2020

How WR Damiere Byrd can be a difference-maker for Patriots in 2020

Last week, I wrote about the Patriots' lack of dynamic offensive speed in 2019 and how — in 2020 — it probably wasn’t going to look much different.

But if there’s a Patriots receiver who’s going to make a liar out of me, it will probably be Damiere Byrd.

The free agent pickup from Arizona was the first free agent signed by the Patriots this offseason. His resume is modest, just like the other players the Patriots plucked in their cash-strapped trip to the market.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

But Byrd — like the other signees we’ll be highlighting this week — comes with a specific skill set the Patriots need. And that’s why we’ll start with him as the Most Likely To Succeed free agent pickup for 2020.

Byrd doesn’t actually have just one skill set the Pats need. He’s got three.

He’s fast. He gets open. He catches the ball.

All three attributes were hard to find among Patriot wideouts last year. And it bit them hard.

How fast is Byrd? During his Pro Day at South Carolina he was timed at 4.28 in the 40. On grass.

From longtime NFL draft and personnel whisperer Gil Brandt in 2015:

Wide receiver Damiere Byrd (5-9 1/8, 173) ran the 40 in 4.28 seconds. He ran it just once since his left calf muscle tightened up on him. Byrd had a 42-inch vertical and 10-foot-11 broad jump. He did the short shuttle in 4.03 seconds, the three-cone in 6.6 seconds and the 60-yard long shuttle in 10.90 seconds, which is unheard of (that time is faster than any other time posted at the 2015 scouting combine). Byrd also had 13 strength lifts. Byrd  who has a track and field background  is a small guy with a lot of speed. With those kind of pro-day numbers, Byrd will be a minimum of a priority free-agent pickup for a team following the 2015 NFL Draft.

After leaving South Carolina with modest numbers, Byrd did indeed wind up a priority free agent. And he landed with the Panthers. And didn’t do much.

Listen and subscribe to the Next Pats Podcast:

He spent 2015 on the practice squad then bounced between the practice squad and active roster in 2016, catching one pass. He was on his way to carving a niche with the offense in 2017 before he broke his arm in a preseason game against the Patriots. He broke his arm again in 2018. He was released by Carolina after those three years and 12 receptions (10 in 2018).

Then he signed with the Cardinals, where he stayed healthy long enough to compile some stats. Byrd would up third on the team in wideout receptions with 32 for 359 yards and a touchdown. Playing as a complementary player to Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, he actually had outstanding success getting open. He was tied for 10th among receivers in average separation with 3.2 yards.

Does he catch the ball? Byrd caught 70 percent of the balls he was targeted with and 89 percent of the catchable balls that went his way. That ranked 11th and 12th.

Byrd also has a little experience returning kicks. Nothing extensive but, given the Patriots practically bailed on returning punts in the second half of the season, it’s not a bad thing having a guy who can do that. 

I asked longtime Cardinals beat writer Darren Urban what else he could tell me about Byrd.

“When he first signed right around the owners' meetings (in 2019) one fan was insistent he was worthless and wouldn’t make it onto the field,” said Urban. “But the coaches automatically liked him from jump. They loved the way he addressed his technique, his work ethic.

“He’s not the biggest guy, he’s not the loudest guy so he’s not going to make a huge impact in that way in the locker room and he’s not going to be a No. 1 receiver,” Urban added. “But what he is going to do is battle.”

While we can expect tweaks to the Patriots' post-Brady offense, Byrd is less likely to be an underneath guy who gets a bunch of checkdowns. He’d seem best suited for tear screens, outside-the-numbers work downfield and taking advantage of mismatches when he gets the opponent’s third or fourth corner across from him.

“He does have speed,” said Urban. ”He flourished last year early on when they were in four-wides. He will be there when you need him. You won’t target him 10 times a game but he did make some big plays and showed a toughness that you didn’t expect when you first saw him.”

Through the years, secondary receivers like Danny Amendola, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth and others flourished in New England. All came with far more extensive résumés than Byrd, whose body of work is far more modest (it’s actually closer to Phillip Dorsett’s than any of the others, even though Dorsett was a first-round pick by the Colts).

And that’s the qualifier one has to add. Will quarterback Jarrett Stidham be afforded the time and have the poise to get to Byrd? Was Byrd limited by injury and opportunity or is he just a fringe guy who's always going to be a fringe guy?

We’ll see. But the opportunity is there for Byrd to flourish.

NFL Rumors: Why Patriots are gaining nearly $10M in extra cap space

NFL Rumors: Why Patriots are gaining nearly $10M in extra cap space

Remember when the cash-strapped New England Patriots entered the 2020 NFL Draft with a paltry $1.07 million in cap space?

It's safe to say they're no longer cash-strapped.

Teams are set to gain additional cap space after the NFL management council informed them that signing bonus prorations for players who opted out of the 2020 NFL season will be removed from the team's payroll and toll to 2021 instead, per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

What does this mean for the Patriots, who have had an NFL-high eight players back out of the 2020 season already? According to Patriots cap wizard Miguel Benzan, New England's available cap space increases by roughly $9.2 million, from $26 million to $35.28 million.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots now have the third-most cap space of any NFL team -- behind only the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Football Team -- after entering the draft with the least cap space.

That's a double-edged sword, of course: New England has gained so much cap space because it has lost so many well-paid, key contributors like linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.

Training camp is ramping up this week, so the Patriots may look to fill that personnel void by signing free agents or swinging trades. While they may not spend big on a marquee name like pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, they certainly have the resources to add some quality talent.

Beau Allen, Dalton Keene have amazing Patriots headshot photos

Beau Allen, Dalton Keene have amazing Patriots headshot photos

The New England Patriots unveiled their 2020 player headshots on Monday, and it was the newcomers who stole the show with their photos.

We finally got our first official look at Cam Newton in a Patriots uniform, but that wasn't even the highlight. Defensive tackle Beau Allen and rookie tight end Dalton Keene have the best headshots of the bunch, and it isn't even close.

Just check out the photos below, shared by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal:


Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Incredible.

Allen signed a two-year deal worth $8 million with New England in March. The 28-year-old appeared in 13 games last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tallying 0.5 sacks and 10 total tackles. He's spent six seasons in the NFL: four with Philly and two with Tampa. His amazing headshot is definitely another reason why he could become a fan favorite this season.

As for Keene, the Virginia Tech product was selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The 21-year-old could have a big role for the Patriots in 2020, especially with tight end Matt LaCosse deciding to opt out of the season. He could also help out at fullback with Danny Vitale opting out as well.