Last November, there were 99 former New England Patriots residing around the NFL between 53-man rosters, practice squads and reserve lists.
The leader in league’s clubhouse then was the Indianapolis Colts, who by Week 12, had 11 players with previous stints in Foxborough.
With Kamar Aiken, Jon Bostic, Jacoby Brissett, Darius Butler, Rashaan Melvin, Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, Adam Vinatieri, Kenny Moore all active, plus Anthony Johnson on the scout team and George Winn on IR for the Colts at the time, it wasn’t much of a contest. The New York Giants were next up with eight ex-Patriots, followed by the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers with seven apiece.
“You can run all of the lists that you run and count them up however you want to count them up,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “However you want to count them up, I think we’ll be up there pretty high.”
But it served as some surprise that when they were counted up, the Detroit Lions had only one at the time.
For an organization overseen by general manager Bob Quinn – who broke into the league as a Patriots player personnel assistant in 2000 and worked up to pro scout, regional scout, national scout, assistant director of pro personnel and ultimately director of pro scouting – there were more ties on the coaching and scouting staffs than the roster by the middle of 2017.
Though with locker rooms occupying 90 now and Matt Patricia at head coach, there are more names from distant or recent Patriots past to account for.
Three once checked into Patricia’s defense in New England, with linebackers Trevor Bates and Jonathan Freeny joining the Lions this offseason and a 2012 Patriots second-round pick re-signing at safety.
“You know, Tavon Wilson’s here, so that’s another guy who’s obviously been in the system and has some familiarity with me and what we’ve run in the past,” Patricia told reporters during his press conference Monday. “I definitely think it doesn’t hurt.”
Bates signed to the Patriots’ practice squad in November 2016 and earned a ring for Super Bowl LI before returning on a futures contract. The Maine product was waived at the roster deadline the following September and briefly remained in the fold on the practice squad.
Freeny had two tours with New England, starting 11 of his 18 appearances from 2015 through 2016 and earning a contract extension along the way. The core special-teamer stepped into a more extensive defensive role, totaling 60 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles during that stint. A trip to injured reserve was met by a release for Freeny in after the 2017 preseason. He re-signed to play in one December contest during what was a circuitous campaign.
And then there’s Wilson, who played in 54 games through four regular seasons with the Patriots, accruing 79 tackles, 10 passes defended, five interceptions and a touchdown runback before following Quinn to Detroit as a free agent in March 2016. Wilson has since gotten the nod at safety in 23 of his 25 Lions appearances.
“You know, those guys are in there, and really for the most part I think in general – learning styles, you learn best when you can learn from your peers,” Patricia added of the familiarity. “So, that’s been a great advantage for us there.”
There are additional connections on Detroit’s offensive side of things with quarterback Matt Cassel, running back LeGarrette Blount and undrafted rookie wideout Chris Lacy – who arrived in New England after Patricia’s tenure began but was claimed off waivers last month.
Cassel entered as the fourth QB drafted under Belichick, and started 15 games for New England back when Patricia was the club’s linebackers coach. As for Blount, the 6-foot, 250-pound back set the franchise record with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 and amassed 34 in all during his time with the Patriots, also walking away with two Super Bowl victories, 677 carries and 2,917 ground yards.
Neither does the fact Detroit’s cabinet also includes the likes of vice president of player personnel Kyle O’Brien, quarterbacks coach George Godsey, strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, assistants Steve Gregory and Billy Yates, as well as area scout Roman Phifer.
New England will revisit those old peers for an 8:20 p.m. ET kick at Ford Field on Sept. 23.