On Thursday, the New England Patriots will open the 2015 NFL season against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. Today, they announced, who will most likely not be on the field that day. Since teams needed to be under the 53-man roster limit by 4:00 p.m. ET, the team made the following transactions today:
TE Asante Cleveland
CB Justin Coleman
DE Xzavier Dickson
LB Darius Fleming
RB Jonas Gray
DB Brandon King
CB Robert McClain
DT Zach Moore
WR Jalen Saunders
CB Daxton Swanson
WR Reggie Wayne
Placed on Physically Unable to Report list:
WR Brandon LaFell
Let's take a closer look at the players involved in today's transactions.
TE Asante Cleveland: The Patriots traded guard Jordan Devey to the San Francisco 49ers in order to acquire the 23-year old. Even though he had seven preseason receptions, he was unable to make the roster as a backup tight end. Cleveland, however, is a candidate to make the team's practice squad.
CB Justin Coleman: The 22-year old cornerback was signed by the Patriots yesterday and was released today. According to Mike Reiss, waiving him was the plan all along in order to get him to the team's practice squad. We will have to wait and see if the plan succeeds.
DE Xzavier Dickson: Selected in the seventh round of this year's draft, Dickson joined a crowded defensive end depth chart in New England. Because of that, the 22-year old was a long-shot to make the roster and today's release does not come as a surprise, even though Dickson has had a solid preseason. He is a prime candidate to make the practice squad.
LB Darius Fleming: After the release of James Morris yesterday, Fleming looked like a strong candidate to make the 53-man roster. He didn't, though, and his release weakens the Patriots' linebacker depth behind starters Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo. Therefore, it would come as no surprise to see the Patriots add another player to join the trio and Jonathan Freeny on the roster. Fleming, meanwhile, is a candidate to make the practice squad.
RB Jonas Gray: After rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts, things went downhill for Gray. He was sent home from practice the following week and with the signing of LeGarrette Blount was unable to ever get back on track. With Blount suspended for the season opener, his chances of making the 53-man roster looked good – just like Gray in the preseason. Apparently, however, the coaching staff likes the team's other running back options more and has decided to move on from the 25-year old. According to Jeff Howe, the Patriots tried to trade Gray prior to his release but didn't find any trade partners.
DB Brandon King: The rookie free agent joined a crowded New England safety depth chart when he signed with the team. He had a quiet training camp and preseason and is a candidate to join the Patriots' practice squad.
CB Robert McClain: The 27-year old was signed by the Patriots as a free agent in March, on the same day the team signed Bradley Fletcher. While Fletcher will be on the team's opening day roster, McClain will not. He had a rough preseason and thus was unable to get the upper hand during the battle for one of the team's cornerback jobs. Even rookie Darryl Roberts' injury did not save McClain from receiving the ax.
DT Zach Moore: The defensive tackle, who turns 25 today, switched positions prior to this year's offseason (he was a defensive end coming out of college and during his rookie year) but was unable to leapfrog veteran Alan Branch for the fourth and final defensive tackle spot. Moore is a candidate for the practice squad, though, due to his experience in the system and his upside as an inside pass rusher.
WR Jalen Saunders: The Patriots traded a conditional draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for Saunders but the pick will never head to Louisiana. The team released the 22-year old, who worked primarily as a punt returner in the one preseason game he played in New England. Saunders is eligible to make the practice squad.
CB Daxton Swanson: The 24-year old had a relatively quiet offseason, even though he finished the preseason with 11 tackles and two defended passes, and was unable to take advantage of the team's questions at cornerback. Swanson, who spent the majority of last season on the Patriots' practice squad, looks destined to begin his 2015 campaign there as well.
WR Reggie Wayne: After receiving a $450,000 signing bonus when he signed his one-year deal with the Patriots on August 24, Wayne looked like a strong candidate to make the Patriots' roster. However, after playing two preseason games with the team and recording two receptions, the team and the veteran part ways. According to Adam Schefter, the 36-year old asked the team to be released which means that a) he likely will retire and b) the team might get some of the signing bonus back.
WR Brandon LaFell: After the Super Bowl, LaFell was seen in a walking boot. He shed it in August but did not return to the practice fields just yet. He won't return until after week six, due to being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list today. The starting wide receiver will only miss five games because of the Patriots' early bye week, but the team's depth at the position will be tested nevertheless. Youngsters Aaron Dobson and Chris Harper, as well as tight end Scott Chandler will have to step up to soften the blow of LaFell's early-season absence.
Due to today's moves, the Patriots now have 54 players on their roster, with one – running back LeGarrette Blount – being suspended for opening week and thus not counting against the limit. While the team is at the 53-limit now, more transactions will surely follow the next few days.