The New England Patriots were quite busy on Saturday, cutting down their roster from 78 to 53 players. While most of the moves were understandable — only so many players can make the roster — some were shockers, shaking up the entirety of Patriots nation. With that in mind, let’s go through the releases based on five categories and rank the releases from the least to the most surprising.
The “We all saw that one coming” category
21. CB Dee Virgin, 20. G Alex Redmond, 19. CB Michael Jackson Sr., 18. DL Tashawn Bower, 17. DT Nick Thurman, 16. DT Akeem Spence, 15. OL William Sherman, 14. OL James Ferentz, 13. OL Korey Cunningham
The players listed here all were in an unfortunate situation. The fact of the matter is, not everyone can make the final 53. These players either were buried on the depth chart (Spence, Thurman, Bower), were passed over by newcomers and players who made a jump during camp (Sherman, Cunningham, Ferentz) or weren’t able to differentiate themselves from their competition during camp (Virgin, Redmond, Jackson Sr.)
Either way, seeing the nine players in the “least shocking” group get released came as no surprise. The question will be how many will be brought back via the 16-man practice squad. Some, such as the Cunningham and Ferentz, could be kept around as insurance policies due to their knowledge of the system.
The “It’s understandable yet disappointing” category
12. WR Tre Nixon, 11. S Adrian Colbert, 10. DT Bill Murray, 9. DT Montravius Adams
These four players fall under the “understandable yet disappointing” category because, they just didn’t have much of a chance to earn a roster spot.
Nixon was a late-round pick, who despite his fun draft day story, never was given much of an opportunity to make any plays during camp. Murray did absolutely everything during camp, including running down kickoffs at a listed 265 pounds, but was buried behind a completely revamped interior defensive line. Colbert was as excited as anyone to be a Patriot, connecting with the fanbase through social media in a way we hadn’t seen before. He just never stood a chance in the Patriots’ loaded safety room. Adams was one of the early free agent signings for New England, unfortunately he just couldn’t keep up talent wise along the front line of the defense.
The “Would have been nice if he could have made the team” category
8. TE Matt LaCosse, 7. DB D’Angelo Ross, 6. WR Isaiah Zuber, 5. WR Kristian Wilkerson
The following players all could have conceivably filled a role for the 2021 Patriots, and still can if given another chance, they just happened to miss the cut by a hair.
Wilkerson put on a show during the early weeks of training camp, but his struggles with drops during the preseason games made him expendable for now. LaCosse looked prime to force New England into keeping four tight ends before his injury in Philadelphia during joint practices. Ross has grinned for well over two years to make the Patriots roster, he just fell short again. Zuber came into camp with a lot of hype, but slowly faded into the background as it progressed.
The practice squad has a place for all of these players should they clear waivers/choose to sign.
The “Minor shock!” category
4. K Nick Folk, 3. QB Brian Hoyer 2. CB Myles Bryant
All three of the players mentioned above should have made the 53-man roster, but one thing kept them off, injuries.
Folk’s two-week absence in the middle of camp opened up an opportunity for rookie undrafted free agent Quinn Nordin, who despite some struggles, seized it and won the job. Hoyer — who will almost certainly be back in New England following a future IR designation— was released to get someone on the roster before being place on injured reserve as not to lose them for the entire season. Bryant injured his shoulder in New England’s first preseason game. An eventual trade for Shaun Wade made him expendable as the reserve slot cornerback on the roster.
Expect all three of these men to find homes soon.
The “Major shock!” category
1. QB Cam Newton
This move sent shockwaves across the NFL, as it signified that the Patriots are choosing to ride the rookie quarterback wave with Mac Jones. Certainly not something you would expect of a Bill Belichick-coached team.
Nevertheless, Newton — who started all three of the Patriots preseason games and exclusively played with starters — looked like he would roll into another year as New England’s top signal-caller based on the rep share between he and Jones. One explainer to the move could be Newton’s Covid-19 vaccination status and the five-day period that he missed last week. That period gave Jones an opportunity to get reps with the top offensive unit against the New York Giants in joint practices, in which he reportedly looked great. Combine those factors with potential to lose Newton at any time throughout the season and you’ve got the start to a explanation for the move.