It was a very busy day around the NFL today, as all 32 teams had to trim down their roster to 75 players as Week One of the 2012 season draws closer. Around the league, there were a few notable names who were let go, but there were no other teams that shocked more people than the New England Patriots did. But would you expect anything less?
For starters, the Patriots decided to cut wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney, who had great success with team back in 2007, was expected to play a vital role in 2012 with the team as a slot receiver. On top of that, they also released fellow 2007 great wide out Donte Stallworth and veteran defensive tackle Gerard Warren.
All three of which were on some peoples Final 53-man Patriots roster. Gaffney, a lock on about 99% of them (pure guess, of course).
The team also announced the release of former BC product Tim Bulman and practice squad-to-actice roster record holder Ross Ventrone. Spencer Larsen, Will Allen and Josh Barrett were placed on injured reserve while Jake Ballard, Markus Zusevics and Myron Pryor were all placed on the reserve/Non Football injury list.
If that wasn't enough for you, the Patriots added wide receiver Kerry Taylor off waivers to make the roster an even 75 players.
Many people were surprised that guys like Stallworth and Gaffney and Warren were released so early, but this was out of courtesy to them, so they can quickly find another team to latch onto. It's hard for me to see all three of these players to go this soon, but it's important that they get on with their careers.
So with that all being said, let's take a look how each one of these roster moves affects the Patriots roster heading into a second round of cuts:
Wide Receivers: Gaffney And Stallworth are OUT. Branch likely IN
With Gaffney and Stallworth now off the roster, it seems pretty evident that Deion Branch will make the final 53-man roster.
Much has been publicized about how Branch was considered the odd man out, and would likely have to battle Stallworth for the final wide receiver spot. Gaffney had such good chemistry with Tom Brady back in 2007, he's a sure bet to make the final roster, right? Well, not exactly.
Branch has worked very hard over the offseason, and was able to deal with the pressure exceptionally well. He's clearly shown Bill Belichick that he's not washed up, and can out preform guys like Gaffney and Stallworth, who have had success in the Patriots offense.
There was a lot said about how Gaffney and Stallworth thrived as receivers in the Patriots system. Today's moves just go to show that out of that group, the former Super Bowl MVP still shines the brightest.
Fullback: It's Eric Kettani, Or No Fullback (Looking Like Option Number Two)
Entering training camp, it seemed almost a certianty that the Patriots would carry a fullback on their 53-man roster. They brought in the likes of Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta and Eric Kettani to try and compete for the job as the team's fullback. Oh, how things can change.
Fiammetta was eliminated from contention early, as he was placed on personal leave and will miss the entire 2012 season because of it. Larsen was crossed off today, as he too won't be back until next season. That leaves military man Eric Kettani as the lone hope for the position to survive on the Patriots' active roster.
However, he hasn't done anything spectacular, and does have practice squad eligibility. The one good thing he's done is stay healthy and play in significant preseason action. But unless the Patriots have that confidence in him and absolutely need a fullback, it looks like that roster spot is best spent elsewhere.
Defensive Tackle: Gerard Warren moves out, Ron Brace moves in
If you are now taking Ron Brace's chances of making the final 53-man more seriously after today, please stand up. (*Stands Up*).
With the release of Gerard Warren, the Patriots appear to be putting all of their eggs in Brace's basket as their depth nose tackle option behind Vince Wilfork. The Patriots also eliminated the likes of Bulman and Pryor, which further helps his chances of getting a spot.
With Kyle Love and likely Brandon Deaderick serving as 3-4 DEs and 4-3 DTs, the Patriots could go four deep at the position. Brace has shined so far during camp, and appears to have let himself live another day at the very least. Brace has had to overcome injuries left and right and had a lot of pressure on him heading into camp. Seems like his hard work has paid off, at least as far as we know.
Safety: James Ihedigbo, Nate Ebner seem more and more likely to make the roster
With the Patriots placing both Will Allen and Josh Barrett on IR, it seems that the fourth safety job is the veteran Ihedigbo's to lose.
After shining last year in an increased role with the Patriots, Ihedigbo will likely serve as Pat Chung's backup at strong. The removal of Allen and Barrett also spell good news for Nate Ebner, who will be on the team's practice squad at the very least, to sneak onto the roster
A safety group of Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Ihedigbo and Ebner seem to be an upgrade over last year's unit, and could become one of the solid younger units in the NFL if everyone stays healthy.
Offensive Line: Koppen Likely To Stay Put, No Brian Waters Move Good Sign
While there wasn't significant roster movement regarding the offensive line, the lack there of spelled good news for some of us. With veterans like Gaffney and Stallworth being let go to find other teams, the lack of a Dan Koppen cut seems to mean that he will make the final roster.
A lot has been said about Koppen's up and down preseason, but his knowledge of the system and experience of leading the Patriots offensive line seems to be paying dividends. It seemed apparent that Koppen was likely on his way out from the start, but he seems to have done enough to stick around at least a little bit longer.
Also, the fact that the team did not announce the retirement or release of veteran guard Brian Waters seems to keep hopes of a possible return very much alive. The fact that Belichick still didn't have updates on him spells even more good news. They've got Dan Connolly ready to go if needed, but I'm still banking on Waters being the starting right guard for at least most of the season.