Entering the 2015 season, the cornerback position was the biggest question mark on the New England Patriots roster. Despite letting Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington go in free agency, the defensive backfield – now led by youngsters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan on the outside – did not skip a beat.
Butler and Ryan were not the only two noteworthy cornerbacks on the 2015 Patriots, though, as undrafted rookie Justin Coleman also played an important role as the team's primary slot cornerback. After Coleman injured his hand in week 9, the Patriots brought another young cornerback on board: Leonard Johnson. The 25-year old appeared in four games for the team but was inactive for both playoff contests.
With his future on the roster in doubt entering the offsason, today's news that the Patriots have released Johnson do not come as a surprise. The team's official press release reads as follows:
Johnson, 25, was signed by New England to the 53-man roster on Dec. 9, 2015 after being released from Tampa Bay’s injured reserve list on Dec. 3, 2015. The 5-foot-10, 202-pounder, appeared in four regular-season games with three starts for the Patriots in 2015 and registered seven tackles and three passes defensed. Johnson was active, but did not play in either postseason contest.
Johnson originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with Tampa Bay out of Iowa State in 2012. He has played in 52 NFL games with 20 starts and has registered 146 total tackles, five interceptions for 128 yards with two touchdowns, 23 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and nine special teams tackles.
Releasing Johnson frees up an additional $235,000 cap space – money, the Patriots could use to acquire another cornerback to compete during the offseason and offer depth behind Butler and Ryan.