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2020 NFL roster cuts: Wide receiver Jeff Thomas among first four players released on cutdown day

Related: Patriots roster cuts tracker: News, rumors, instant analysis, and more

Virginia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New England Patriots entered cutdown day with 77 players on their active roster and 24 to be released. The first four of those have already heard their names called: offensive lineman Ben Braden, tight end Paul Butler, quarterback Brian Lewerke and wide receiver Jeff Thomas have all been let go by the team, according to various reports. New England therefore now has 73 players under contract.

Let’s take a look at the released players.

OL Ben Braden

Braden does have experience and versatility, but the fourth-year man joined the Patriots relatively late in the process: he was signed in mid-August as a potential depth option at both guard and tackle. However, his release seemed likely considering that some higher-upside players are currently on the team at his positions as well. The 26-year-old could become a speed-dial emergency option or practice squad addition, though.

Braden originally arrived in the league as an undrafted rookie in 2017. After spending his first two seasons moving between the New York Jets’ active roster and practice squad, the Michigan product joined the Green Bay Packers in 2019. Braden spent only two months in Wisconsin, however, before being released again and returning to the Jets later that same year. So far in his career, he has appeared in just three regular season games and has played a mere 13 snaps — all of which in the kicking game.

TE Paul Butler

Like Braden, Paul Butler was also brought aboard relatively late during the process: New England signed him the same day to bolster a tight end depth chart that lacked NFL-level experience. While he did catch a few passes in team drills, he has not done enough to be kept around on the 53-man squad. His comparatively advanced age — Butler is 27 — may also hurt his chances to make the practice squad unless other pieces fall into place.

Butler originally arrived in the NFL as a rookie free agent signing by the then-Oakland Raiders in 2018. While he saw regular action on offense and special teams during his first preseason, the team decided to release him before bringing him back via its practice squad. Butler spent most of his first two years in the league on the club’s developmental roster, before a short stint with the Detroit Lions earlier this year. He eventually returned to the Raiders only to be released again in August.

QB Brian Lewerke

After seeing only a handful of reps during team drills and being essentially used as a camp arm, Lewerke has now been released by the Patriots — the second time this has happened in his young career as a rookie free agent. His release does therefore not come as a surprise but he appears to be a candidate to be brought back as additional depth via the practice squad. This will only happen, however, if the Patriots’ coaches feel confident in him after what was a rather inactive camp.

Lewerke’s NFL career is still in its infancy after he originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent earlier this offseason, but he still entered the pro level with considerable experience as a starting quarterback: he started 38 of the 41 games he appeared in during his four non-redshirt years at Michigan State, and ended his college career as the school’s all-time leader in total offense with a combined 9,548 yards — 8,293 passing plus a 1,255 rushing.

WR Jeff Thomas

While he was able to flash his intriguing athleticism and high ceiling repeatedly during his time at the University of Miami, his stint with the Hurricanes was also marked by immaturity: Thomas was dismissed from the program in November 2018, and after a return the following season again suspended for two games. Despite his upside, he therefore did not hear his name called during this year’s draft.

Thomas’ athletic profile is intriguing, but his start with the Patriots was off to a slow start — not just because of the Coronavirus pandemic eliminating all on-field work during the offseason. He also spent some time on the sidelines during training camp and never truly stood out while actually on the practice fields. At this point in time, the practice squad seems to be his destination if he makes it through the waiver wire.