The New England Patriots have started to trim the roster to meet deadlines as the regular season approaches. While some cuts aren't surprising, there are a couple players with names that are recognizable to to average fan and may come as a shock.
According to the Patriots, the following players have been cut:
The team released veterans LS Matt Katula, TE Garrett Mills, S James Sanders, CB Jonathan Wilhite and DL Kade Weston; first-year players WR Tyree Barnes and WR Darnell Jenkins; 2011 seventh-round draft pick DB Malcolm Williams and rookie free agents K Chris Koepplin, DE Clay Nurse and OL Mark Wetterer.
There are a few names that stick out on the list- Katula is the team's long snapper and rarely do teams have multiple snappers in camp; Sanders has been a part time starter at safety the last few years; and Wilhite has contributed as a starting corner and as a slot corner the last couple years. While these cuts are justified, in my opinion, the impact of these moves will be important to watch. Let's breakdown the cuts after the jump!
LS Matt Katula - The Patriots have signed former Jets LS James Dearth as a replacement. OLB/DE Rob Ninkovich is also available as a snapper. Katula has been okay, but he's prone to a mistake every blue moon- and that's far too often for his position.
TE Garrett Mills - You may have noticed that the Patriots offense has seemed a little "off" this pre-season. Most importantly, the Tom Brady - Deion Branch connection is apparently non-existent. Brady has rarely looked in Branch's direction. I actually believe this is on purpose. Branch has stated that the offense is "working out the kinks." It's clear that the Brady/Branch attack was able to start functioning when Branch joined midway through the season; I believe that the connection is fine. The Patriots' offense is just trying to build that same connection with the other players on offense. This is where Mills comes into play. Brady has an apparent favorite target in TE Aaron Hernandez. However, Hernandez isn't playing the entire pre-season game, and neither is Brady. That said, the coaching staff will still want to run plays with the back-up players. I have stated that Mills was signed to help contribute with the back-up offenses to provide a Hernandez-like ability in case of an emergency. With the season drawing near, Hernandez will be playing full games and Mills' redundancy is not needed. The cut isn't a big hit and he is still an option to find a spot on the practice squad.
S James Sanders - Could have been a surprise, except I totally called it. It's tough to see a good person and solid player leave, but the price tag was too much for what he was contributing. Sanders has been a solidly average player in the secondary, doing nothing exceptionally poorly and nothing exceptionally well. Since he was entering his contract year alongside fellow safety Brandon Meriweather, perhaps this is a vote of confidence in Meriweather. That said, Sanders had fallen behind Meriweather, SS Pat Chung, and S Sergio Brown in the depth chart and was up for one of the most expensive contracts on the team- and that's just too much for the 4th string safety.
CB Jonathan Wilhite - Wilhite was a contributor in the slot, but he provided numerous headaches on the field throughout his time as a Patriot. He wasn't even mediocre in the outside and he was okay in the slot. The Patriots must believe that Wilhite has peaked and that he cannot progress further as a player. During the pre-season, Kyle Arrington has been seeing a lot of time in the slot, as has Darius Butler. Both players are ahead of Wilhite in the depth chart and rookie Ras-I Dowling looks to take the final cornerback roster spot. Wilhite should find a spot on another team, but I don't think he'll be missed by many in New England.
DL Kade Weston - I'm actually surprised that more defensive tackles weren't released. Weston was one of the bottom tier players on the Patriots' roster and was an expected cut. That said, here's a list of the current 4-3 defensive tackles/ 3-4 defensive linemen on the roster:
That's eleven (11) players. Nine if you don't include the injured. I expect there to be six, maybe seven, that make the team and that's if Brace and Deaderick are PUPed. I expect Cohen and Richard to be cut and I feel like Ellis, Warren, and Wright are fighting for two spots. This battle continues to rage and will hopefully clear up in the next week.
WR Tyree Barnes - Not a surprise, but he served his country and should do well in life, whatever he should pursue.
WR Darnell Jenkins - Not a surprise, but the fact that Buddy Farnham still has a roster spot shows that Farnham might make it to the practice squad. Jenkins appeared to be playing well with the back-ups, but there just simply aren't enough roster spots for all the receivers and Jenkins misses the special teams value of other players. Look for Brandon Tate, Matthew Slater, and Jeremy Ross to fight over the same 53-man roster spot and watch Slater win.
2011 seventh-round draft pick DB Malcolm Williams - Williams has been injured and could make it to the Patriots' IR as they groom him to become a player. He is an outstanding athlete and the Patriots love sitting athletes on the sideline for a year until they find a role. Look for him to stick around.
K Chris Koepplin - The release of Koepplin means that K Stephen Gostkowski is back full time. Gostkowski was kicking the football into the stands behind the end zone all game and it appears that he's fine. Koepplin should get a look from some other teams around the league and look for him to be on Bill Belichick's short list of quick contacts if anything happens to Gostkowski.
DE Clay Nurse - Not really a surprise, but Nurse should be grouped in with fellow youngsters Markell Carter, and Alex Silvestro. This group is distinct from the Ricky Brown, Niko Koutouvides, Aaron Lavarias, Jeff Tarpinian, and Tracy White group as the former consists of depth pass rushers, while the latter are all in the running to be the Patriots' Next Top Special Teams Ace. White is a clear leader, although Koutouvides has shown a lot of value as a back-up LB. Tarpinian is a serious practice squad candidate. Look for the Patriots' to try and squeeze Carter and/or Silvestro on the practice squad as well. It appears that the Patriots will be using Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, and Eric Moore as the DEs this season.
OL Mark Wetterer - Not a surprise either, although the question mark at right guard means that Wetterer was a cut because he wasn't as good as the other players on the roster, and not because "someone had to be cut." That said, Dan Connolly hasn't looked good at right guard at all, which is surprising because he looked competent at left guard. I can't wait for Marcus Cannon to get healthy and take over right guard- or maybe Rich Ohrnberger or Ryan Wendell will surprise.
In addition to the cuts, the Patriots signed three players onto the roster. One is an old face, one is an old rival, and the other is new.
Safety Ross Ventrone was invited back, which was expected since they never took down his locker after he was released. He was a practice squad stud last season and earned plenty of recognition for all of his help in the practices. He does whatever is asked of him and should find a spot back on the practice squad.
Long Snapper James Dearth was extended an invite due to the release of Matt Katula. Dearth was the long snapper for the Jets for almost a decade and should prove to be a reliable player for the Patriots.
Wide Receiver Tiquan Underwood was signed as a free agent, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Underwood is a potential deep threat receiver, but looks to contribute more as a returnman. Brandon Tate looked awful against the Lions and Underwood should provide solid competition.
There are currently 82 players on the active roster and the Patriots can only have 80 players by the end of Tuesday. Don't be surprised if it's a linebacker (Brown, Lavarias, Marques Murrell), defensive lineman (Cohen, Richard), wide receiver (Ross, Tate), running back (Eric Kettani, Richard Medlin), or offensive lineman (Thomas Austin, Mike Berry, Jonathan Compas, Corey Woods). Out of those thirteen players, I feel like Kettani and Woods/Berry are the most likely (and the NFL Waiver Wire has Kettani as "cut" by the Patriots).