Justin Francis and Marcus Forston Released by the Patriots

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have made a pair of surprising cuts - releasing defensive linemen Justin Francis and Marcus Forston on Saturday.

Well, here's the first really big surprise of the day.  According to Field Yates of ESPN Boston, the New England Patriots have released defensive lineman Justin Francis, along with linebacker Ja'Gared Davis and safety Kanorris Davis:

According to other reports the Patriots have also released defensive tackle Marcus Forston.

While both Ja'Gared and Kanorris Davis were long shots, most expected both Forston and Francis to make the final roster.

I wasn't particularly impressed with Forston from camp and the preseason, but as it was, the Patriots were extremely thin at defensive tackle.  Forston wasn't a game changer, but he could be called upon in spot duty if needed.  With his release, the Patriots have just three options at defensive tackle - Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and rookie free agent Joe Vellano.

Vellano has flashed a motor in training camp, but was considered a long shot to make the roster.  For now, it appears he'll stick.

The Patriots' lack of depth at defensive tackle makes it all the more surprising that Francis was released.  As an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers, Francis came on strong near the end of the 2012 season.  He could kick inside to defensive tackle, and was projected to be a fixture in sub-packages this year.  The team also released both Marcus Bernard and Jermaine Cunningham - two other defensive ends that could play 3-technique on passing downs.

With the moves, the Patriots have just seven defensive linemen remaining on the roster.  At defensive end, they have Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette.  At tackle, they have Wilfork, Kelly, and Vellano.

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