The New England Patriots have a new punter.
According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the Patriots signed free agent Corliss Waitman on March 23 to plug their vacancy at the position. He fills the void left by Jake Bailey, who was released on March 10 before signing with the Miami Dolphins on March 17.
Corliss Waitman Played on the New England Patriots’ Practice Squad in 2021
Waitman, who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021 and the Denver Broncos in 2022, was replaced in Denver by Riley Dixon after the Broncos signed Dixon on March 21. Denver terminated its exclusive rights tender with Waitman that same day, making him available in free agency.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t wait long to pounce, scooping up Waitman two days later. According to Reiss, Belichick is already familiar with Waitman from his time on New England’s practice squad in 2021, which could explain why the Patriots were so quick to pick him up. Belichick has also preferred left-footed punters historically, so it helps that Waitman kicks with his left foot.
The 27-year-old is coming off a strong 2022 campaign in which he played every game for the Broncos and led the NFL in punts with 96. He also ranked second in punting yards with 4,470, trailing only Ryan Stonehouse (4,779) of the Tennessee Titans. One of the highlights of Waitman’s season occurred in Week 3 when he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week — the first such honor of his career.
New England Patriots Hope Corliss Waitman Can Provide Upgrade Over Predecessor
While Waitman didn’t play any games for New England during his stint with the team in 2021, Bailey’s departure opens the door for Waitman to start in 2023, however.
Bailey saw his performance decline in 2022 — his fourth season with the Patriots. He played only nine games due to a back injury and saw his numbers decrease across the board, resulting in career lows in categories such as yards per punt (42.1) and net yards per punt (35.1). He was even suspended by the team after a disagreement over when he would be able to return from his injury.
Waitman, a native of Belgium, was healthier and more productive than Bailey last season, playing all 17 games while averaging 46.6 yards per punt and 41.4 net yards per punt. If Waitman can post similar numbers in 2023, New England will have improved its punting situation.
Patriots Could Still Pursue Another Punter
As the lone punter on the Patriots’ roster, Waitman currently has the inside track to be the team’s starting punter in 2023 by default.
That doesn’t mean the job is guaranteed to be his, however. According to NESN, there are “more than a few punter prospects whom the Patriots could target” in the April draft.
However, most punters go undrafted. Since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1997, only 51 punters have been drafted, or roughly two per year, according to a March 23 story by The Athletic’s Jayna Bardahl. Eighteen of the 36 players who executed a punt in 2022 went undrafted, signing instead as free agents, Bardahl wrote.
“You can be one of the best punters in the country and if teams don’t have the luxury of an extra pick to take a punter for their team, they may have to make the team as an undrafted rookie instead of a drafted rookie,” Shayne Graham, a retired 15-year NFL kicker and CEO of Elite Winning Solutions, told Bardahl in her story.
The Patriots also are potentially eyeing another wide receiver after signing JuJu Smith-Schuster. New England still has $12.3 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap, so there’s still some flexibility to sign another punter.