Let's start with Washington. The veteran back was signed earlier this offseason with the intention of having him provide a boost to the Patriots return game (an area the Patriots struggled in last season). Washington turned out to be a one-trick pony however, and wasn't expected to factor in much on offense. Because of this, the Patriots probably figured they would rather rely on someone like rookie receiver Josh Boyce to help out in the kick return game. They already have an explosive punt returner in Julian Edelman. It wouldn't surprise me to see Washington back sometime down the line. The salaries of vested veterans become fully guaranteed after week one if they are still on the roster.
While the Washington release may be more noticed around the league, the release of Cole is more surprising to me. He had established himself as a core special teams player and had played some better than expected defense in the preseason. It likely came down to a numbers game, and the Patriots valued safety Nate Ebner for his special teams play and upside more. Surprising.
We already touched on the A.J. Francis signing earlier, so lets quickly hit the other three pick-ups:
Chris White, LB: 6'3", 238 lbs linebacker who played the last two seasons with the Bills before being traded to the Lions on August 25th. He was a solid special teams contributor a year ago for Buffalo, and if he's on the active roster, that will likely be his role.
Braxston Cave, OL: The Patriots were thin on the line, and Cave will help there. An undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Cave started 35 games at center during his career with the Irish. He has good size, is a smart player, and was considered one of the better prospects at the position heading into this draft despite not getting picked.
Chris Barker, OG: Undrafted out of Nevada, Barker was a four year starter collegiately and spent training camp with the Dolphins. He's considered an athletic guard with a good motor who could use some refinement in his technique. The Patriots have a benefit there as Dante Scarnecchia is the best when it comes to developing young lineman.
Overall, it seems as if the Patriots are taking on risk by claiming three undrafted free agents and releasing two veterans who were expected to be on the game day roster. That being said, Cave, Barker, and Francis all provide the Patriots depth at areas they were lacking it and all have some upside.
The moves bring the Patriots to 53 players on their active roster. Expect some more shuffling in the coming days, as the Patriots now have ten offensive linemen.