In the team's first major move of the offseason, the Patriots have reportedly informed outside linebacker / defensive end Tully Banta-Cain of his release. Adam Schefter first reported the move via twitter.
This move would have been surprising if it had been done three days ago. However, with the recent news that Banta-Cain would be out 4-6 weeks due to abdominal surgery, he became rather expendable with his big contract. Banta-Cain was scheduled to make $4.5 million in 2011 after signing a three year, $19 million deal last year. Getting rid of the veteran pass rusher will also save the Patriots nearly $2 million in cap space.
I wouldn't necessarily rule out a return to the Patriots for Banta-Cain. If he recovers quickly and the Patriots are still in need of pass rushing help, the team could bring him back at a low cost. As I have argued in the past, I feel like Banta-Cain is still the Patriots' best speed rusher, so not having him around will hurt.
The Patriots could also elect to bring in outside help at outside linebacker. The team's top returning veterans include Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, and Eric Moore. Those three players have a combined 25 career starts.
If this is indeed the end of Banta-Cain's career with the Patriots, he will ultimately go down in Patriots history as a really solid role player, but not much else. Banta-Cain came in as a seventh round pick in 2003, and earned his way into the team's rotation by the end of his rookie year. He ultimately played in and won two Super Bowls with the Patriots. In 2006, he turned into a viable starting option, picking up 5.5 sacks on the year.
Following the season (and the expiration of his rookie contract), Banta-Cain signed on with the 49ers where he really struggled.
When he re-signed with the Patriots before the 2009 season, most people weren't even expecting him to make the roster. However, he proved those doubters wrong and produced a great 10 sack season, even earning himself a new contract with the team entering 2010. While his production dropped last year, he was still a capable pass rusher and is still only 30. If he doesn't return to the Pats at a lower price, I would certainly expect him to catch on elsewhere.