The New England Patriots were quite active on Saturday: the team parted ways with a total of 24 players to get its active roster from 77 to the regular season limit of 53. While more moves will soon follow — New England does not have a place kicker under contract at the time being, for example — the first team is set and ready to be analyzed. With that said, let’s dig in.
Three quarterbacks for the first time in nine years
While the Patriots did waive undrafted rookie/camp arm Brian Lewerke, they still opted to keep three quarterbacks on their active roster: Cam Newton will serve as the starter with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer as his backups. A trio of QBs making the initial 53-man squad has not happened in New England in a relatively long time — not since Tom Brady had only three Super Bowl rings on his fingers.
Back in 2011, Brady was the starter with Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett as his backups. The team kept this lineup intact all season, even though neither depth quarterback saw any meaningful playing time. Will 2020 be the same? Only time will tell.
Offensive line and secondary are the deepest positions on the team
The Patriots’ offensive line struggled with consistency in 2019, prompting the team to add three players via trade around the cutdown deadline. This year, no such move was necessary to bolster the position group’s depth: not only did New England keep all five of its offensive tackles, the team also decided to move forward with five of seven interior linemen. While nothing is set in stone, the O-line’s overall depth across the board is solid.
New England’s defensive backfield, meanwhile, might very well be the best in football. The cornerback group led by the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, is possibly the deepest in the NFL, while the safety position is no less stocked despite some offseason turnover. With the front-seven a relative unknown at this point, the unit might be asked to carry the defense — something it could very well be capable of given its top-to-bottom talent.
The undrafted rookie streak is over
When undrafted rookie cornerback Randall Gay survived the Patriots’ roster cutdown day in 2004, he kicked off an impressive streak that was active until today: over each of the last 16 seasons, at least one rookie free agent was able to survive the Patriots’ roster cutdown day. This year, with an abbreviated spring and no preseason, not one of the nine remaining UDFAs was able to make the initial 53-man squad.
That said: don’t be said that the streak is over, be happy that it brought players such as Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson to New England.
Help wanted: Kicker
For as deep as some other positions are, there is one that has literally zero depth: place kicker. When reports broke that the Patriots had released fifth-round rookie Justin Rohrwasser, veteran Nick Folk was crowned as the winner of the competition — prematurely as it turned out a short time later when he was let go as well.
So, what’s the Patriots’ plan at the position?
They could just wait a few days before re-signing one of the two players, or look to the waiver wire to find some help (Chase McLaughlin, who the team unsuccessfully tried to claim last December, would be available). Either way, New England’s kicker position remains in limbo half a year after releasing franchise great Stephen Gostkowski.
Pass catching youth movement raises questions
While 34-year-old Julian Edelman is well-established within the Patriots’ passing attack, the rest of the team’s wide receivers and tight ends lacks experience within the system. N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski are in their second year with the team, while fellow wideout Damiere Byrd only arrived in New England earlier this offseason. Tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are rookies, with Ryan Izzo having appeared in only six games over the course of his career so far.
The talent at the two positions is undoubtably a huge question mark at this point in time — not necessarily because of its upside, but rather due to its unproven nature. This situation is therefore somewhat similar to last year’s. This also means that the group as a whole needs to show some consistency that was lacking in 2019 to help lift the offense from the semi-moribund state it was in over the second half of the season.
Some intriguing players are now on waivers
While most of the Patriots’ cuts were expected, the team did expose some talented players to the waiver wire. Linebacker Cassh Maluia appeared to be well on his way to earn the second pure inside linebacker role before his release; running back J.J. Taylor and cornerback Myles Bryant had some positive moments in training camp; wide receiver Jeff Thomas offers a high athletic ceiling. All four players would benefit from a year on the practice squad, but there is no guarantee they will make it this far.