The New England Patriots currently sit with 75 players on the roster and will have to trim down an additional 20 players by Saturday, factoring in the suspensions for both running back LeGarrette Blount and quarterback Tom Brady since they won't count against the roster limit.
Over the past month, the Patriots have tooled and retooled their roster to try and come up with the strongest depth and there have been plenty of moving pieces. Let's take a look back at a week-by-week development of the team's roster, starting with the week of July 26th, when the New England veterans were required to report in to camp and players were placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Week of July 26th
On July 27th, the Patriots placed quarterback Matt Flynn on the "Non-Football Injury" (NFI) list, while defensive tackles Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, and Vince Taylor, linebackers Dane Fletcher and Chris White, receivers Brandon LaFell and Matthew Slater, and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell were placed on the PUP list.
On July 29th, the Patriots placed running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Alan Branch, and offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann on the NFI list due to their inability to pass the conditioning test. This is also the date that fullback James Develin officially signed his contract extension.
On August 1st, the Patriots cut defensive backs Justin Green and Derek Cox, as well as linebacker D.J. Lynch, bringing the roster down to 87 players for the opening week of camp. RB Blount passed his conditioning test and was removed from the NFI list, while DT Easley practiced and was removed from the PUP list.
Week of August 2nd
On August 2nd, the Patriots claimed offensive guard Harland Gunn off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons.
On August 3rd, the Patriots waived offensive tackle Kevin Hughes and defensive tackle Vince Taylor with the injury distinction, sending them to the team's IR if they cleared waivers. The roster was reduced to 86 players.
On August 4th, the Patriots waived rookie tight end and 6th round pick A.J. Derby with the injury distinction, so he would join the IR if he cleared waivers. The Patriots also signed linebackers Cameron Gordon and L.J. Fort, fullback Eric Kettani, and defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali'i, increasing the roster to 89 players. The Patriots needed bodies at linebacker and on the defensive line due to the recovery of Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, as well as Dominique Easley on the defensive line.
On August 6th, the Patriots cut OG Gunn, who was signed on August 2nd, and signed offensive tackle Mark Asper and tight end Mason Brodine to help build depth on the roster.
On August 7th, the Patriots reached an injury settlement with DT Vince Taylor so he was cleared off the team's roster and IR. The team held at 90 players on the roster.
Week of August 9th
On August 10th, the Patriots cut TE Brodine, QB Flynn, and LB Chris White, the latter two unable to practice due to injuries. In response, the Patriots signed running back Tony Creecy, quarterback Ryan Lindley, and tight end Logan Stokes. The Patriots also acquired offensive guard Ryan Groy from the Chicago Bears in exchange for rookie linebacker and 6th round pick Matthew Wells. Defensive tackle Alan Branch passed his conditioning test and was removed from the NFI list.
On August 11th, special teams ace Matthew Slater practiced and was removed from the team's PUP list.
On August 12th, the Patriots sent running back Tyler Gaffney to the IR.
On August 14th, the Patriots signed defensive tackle Casey Walker, ending the week with 90 players on the roster.
Week of August 16th
On August 18th, the Patriots cut TE Stokes and LB Fort. In response, they claimed offensive tackle Chris Martin off of waivers from the Miami Dolphins. Additionally, the Patriots sent offensive lineman Jordan Devey to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for tight end Asante Cleveland.
Those were the only moves in an otherwise quiet week. For those keeping track, DT Jones, LB Fletcher, WR LaFell, and OL Wendell remained on the PUP list, while OL Hauptmann was on the NFI list. The roster was at 89 players at the end of the week.
Week of August 23rd
On August 24th, the Patriots sent receivers Brian Tyms and Brandon Gibson to the IR and re-signed linebacker D.J. Lynch, who the team cut on August 1st.
On August 25th, the Patriots cut FB Kettani, who they signed on August 4th, and they signed veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne from the Colts. Offensive linemen Ryan Wendell and Caylin Hauptmann were cleared from the PUP and NFI lists, respectively.
On August 26th, the Patriots cut cornerback Jimmy Jean. The team traded a 2017 7th round pick to the Detroit Lions for offensive tackle Michael Williams, who quickly converted to tight end for New England.
On August 27th, the Patriots cut OT Asper, who they signed on August 6th, LB Gordon, who they signed on August 4th, and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson. The Patriots also sent tight end Jake Bequette to the IR.
At the end of this week, the Patriots had 84 players on the roster and it was evident that the team was churning the same couple of players on the back-end of the roster for the sake of depth. DT Jones, LB Fletcher, and WR LaFell were the only players still on the PUP list.
Week of August 30th
On August 31st, the Patriots cut tight end Jimmay Mundine, defensive tackle Joe Vellano, and linebacker Dekoda Watson. New England also sent receivers Josh Boyce and Jonathan Krause to the IR, reducing the roster to 79 players the day before the deadline.
On September 1st, the Patriots cut offensive lineman Chris Barker and LB Lynch, who the team re-signed on August 24th. The Patriots also sent FB Develin and rookie cornerback and 7th round pick Darryl Roberts to the IR. LB Fletcher and DT Jones were placed on the PUP list, but curiously WR LaFell was not as a sign that he is expected to return early in the 2015 season. New England claimed receiver DaVaris Daniels off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots sent a conditional 2018 7th round pick to the New Orleans Saints for receiver Jalen Saunders. The additions and subtractions netted the roster to 75 players.
New England did a great job of moving the back-end of the roster, although it's evident that none of the players added these past few weeks are expected to play a major role on the 2015 Patriots. Most moves were made to compensate for injuries at the position that were either previously standing (linebacker, defensive line), or developed during the preseason (wide receiver, offensive line).
Many should note how quickly certain players are removed from the PUP list (Easley was on the list for under a week) because the distinction should not cause fans to panic; sometimes it's just a protective measure by the coaches who want to see a little bit more out of player before giving them the green light. It is a list for some serious injuries (Jones, Fletcher, and LaFell, for certain), but it's not a death knell for a player's season.
And look for more teams to start trading like the Patriots have been doing with conditional future 7th round picks. 7th round picks are essentially free in the draft market, either due to compensatory picks or sweeteners in other draft pick trades, and Bill Belichick has a penchant for acquiring late rounders for almost nothing.
While no one can claim to be upset that the Patriots sent a future 7th round pick to the Lions for Williams, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that sending a 2018 7th round pick (three drafts down the road!) to the Saints for WR Saunders, with the pick likely conditional on Saunders even making the team, is bypassing the waivers system. It's important to note this is not illegal, but it certainly raises sensors for the smell test as a loophole that might need to be altered in some capacity.