Over this past weekend the Patriots, like every other team in the NFL had to cut their rosters down to the mandated 53 man player limit. They had to make 20 roster cuts despite having 75 players because both Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich did not count towards 53 man limit because of their separate four game suspensions. There were some tough cuts and some cuts that may have been mild surprises, but other than that, it was a pretty quiet day for New England compared to the “noise” some of the others team made.
What might’ve been the most shocking is that the team cut five wide receivers (Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin and Chris Harper). That would leave the team with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and the recently activated Danny Amendola. Matthew Slater is technically counts as a wide receiver but is strictly a special teams star. With Amendola not practicing just yet and Mitchell still coming off an elbow injury, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team add a wide receiver or two soon.
Despite having a strong training camp and preseason, the team waived/injured running back Tyler Gaffney. He went unclaimed in waivers, so he will most likely revert back to injured reserve or be released with an injury settlement. Gaffney injured his foot in the final preseason game and might’ve once again missed an entire regular season due to injury. That means that undrafted free agent D.J. Foster earned a roster spot after an impressive two preseason games. He will most likely have a third down role alongside James White. Joey Iosefa was the other running back released but he faced a long-shot of making the team after not doing much to impress.
New England decided in the end to keep four tight ends, rather than cut one of either A.J. Derby or Clay Harbor. It seemed to be a competition between the two for the number three tight end job but it may have been too close to call and the team didn’t want to lose either. Both Derby and Harbor project as “move” tight ends who are much better in the receiving game as opposed to being a blocker. Harbor can also play H-back (tight end, full back and some wide receiver) in a pinch if something ever happened to James Develin. The team did waive rookie undrafted free agent Bryce Williams, who was a long shot to make the team regardless.
In a three-man race for the number cornerback spot, the Patriots had a tough decision to make between Cre’Von LeBlanc, Darryl Roberts and Jonathan Jones. LeBlanc sat out the preseason finale with a hip injury, which boded well for his chances if the team didn’t want him playing. Jones had impressed the Patriots coaching staff despite being only 5’9″ and Roberts was a 2015 seventh round pick. In the end, the team released Roberts and LeBlanc, meaning Jones had won the spot. He will function as a reserve cornerback but mostly play special teams in 2016.
After Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny and Barkevious Mingo, the team did not have any other depth at linebacker. Many suspected that Kamu Grugier-Hill would win the last spot because of his speed (4.45 forty yard dash) and his ability to play as a hybrid linebacker/safety. But after Kevin Snyder was released with an injury settlement, the team actually kept Elandon Roberts over Grugier-Hill. Roberts played through a leg injury in the preseason finale and that might’ve been enough to sway the coaching staff. Grugier-Hill was subsequently waived in a minor shocking move.
After trading for Mingo from the Browns, Geneo Grissom’s roster spot didn’t appear to be as safe as most would think considering he was a 2015 third round draft pick. He hadn’t done enough to prove he had taken a step forward with learning how to be a better football player despite his versatility and loads of athleticism. He was waived by the team after being thought of as a pretty safe bet to make the team when training camp opened up. Regardless, the team has a lot of solid depth at both defensive end/outside linebacker.
In addition to Gaffney, Iosefa, Martin, Lucien, Harper, Dobson, Carter, Grugier-Hill, Snyder, LeBlanc, Roberts, Williams and Grissom being released, the team let offensive linemen Chris Barker and Jon Halapio, defensive linemen Markus Kuhn, Joe Vellano, Rufus Johnson and Woodrow Hamilton along with safety Vinnie Sunseri go as well. With the team making the necessary roster cuts to get down to the mandatory 53, the team now had the opportunity to construct their 10 man practice squad.
In order for the Patriots to sign any of their eligible players to the practice squad (must have less than three years of NFL service time), they must pass through waivers. What that means is that no other team when given the opportunity, put a “bid” on a player to sign them to their team. If no team puts a bid in, then the player is allowed to sign anywhere as a free agent. If a team puts a bid in, that team claims the player and their contract, thus making that player no longer part of the Patriots. So while the Patriots are allowed to sign those unclaimed and eligible players to their practice squad if both sides agree, they can also sign other unclaimed players who are now free agents as well.
Of the 20 players who were released/waived, only three were claimed on waivers by other teams. That would be LeBlanc (Bears), Roberts (Jets) and Grugier-Hill (Eagles). LeBlanc and Grugier-Hill were two players that the Patriots most likely wanted to sign to their practice squad, so them being claimed was tough but not shocking luck. The Patriots added some players from outside the organization, such as wide receiver Devin Street (Cowboys) and running back Bishop Sankey (Titans).
In addition, the team announced that Barker, Clay DeBord (released by Cardinals), Grissom, Hamilton, Johnson and Lucien to their practice squad. So including Street and Sankey, the team has eight players on their practice squad and would have two more spots open. Right now, the team would have one running back (Sankey), two wide receivers (Street, Lucien), two offensive linemen (DeBord, Barker) and three defensive linemen (Grissom, Hamilton, Johnson) on the practice squad.
Overall, it was a solid weekend for the Patriots as they didn’t make any “shocking” releases and did what many expected them to do in the first place. Now, New England has under a week now to get ready for their week one matchup against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football in what could be a Super Bowl preview.