It’s been a busy few days of trades and cuts in New England, but the Patriots finally announced their 53-man roster Saturday night.
To be clear, referring to this as the “final” 53-man roster or even “opening day” 53-man roster would be misleading and potentially irresponsibly inaccurate.
There is a good chance there will be alterations to the roster in the coming days, but like all NFL teams Bill Belichick got his Patriots down to 53 players by the 4 p.m. deadline.
With that in mind, here are 12 thoughts on the moves that got the Patriots down to the current 53-man roster.
Gunner be a hell of a story – When the Patriots trailed the Falcons 28-3 in the Super Bowl, Julian Edelman vocalized his faith in the potential for a comeback by saying it was, “Gonna be a hell of a story.” Though it’s not on the level of Super Bowl history, undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski’s spot on the 53-man roster is indeed a hell of a story. The former Div. II defensive back out of Bemidji State opened camp as arguably the 90th guy on the roster, a true camp body thrown out there at wide receiver out of pure summer need. Then a funny thing happened and he just wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t stop making plays, especially on punt returns, and put himself in consideration for the roster and the major need at returner. But, alas, on Saturday morning he was informed that he wouldn’t be making the team. A few hours later, though, after a trade involving Keion Crossen, the man who’s earned first-name-only recognition in his short time in New England, was told he’d snagged apparently the final roster spot. Maybe the Patriots realized Gunner wouldn’t make it through waivers to get to the practice squad. Maybe the plan was to sign him to the roster off the practice squad later in the week to return punts anyway. Maybe, as they say in the NCAA tournament, he was just the last one out and, subsequently, the last one in after the trade. Regardless, the feel-good story of a guy who clearly earned the respect of his coaches and teammates is on the Patriots roster. It really is a hell of a story. For now.
And then there were 2 (QBs) – As soon as the Patriots drafted Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round last April the questions about Brian Hoyer’s job security began. Belichick – like most NFL teams – has shown over the years that he prefers to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster. When Brian Hoyer sat out the final two preseason games, the questions grew louder. Now we know that Stidham needed the extra reps to get ready for his role backing up Tom Brady. The reality is that Stidham showed plenty of talent – physical and otherwise – this summer. The reality is if Hoyer had stuck around – and taken a roster spot on a pretty deep team – it could have stagnated Stidham’s development. Hoyer would have taken the limited No. 2 reps behind Brady. Hoyer has also been given rave reviews for his scout team work in recent years. If that continued, Stidham would have had little chance to practice and grow. The reality is that if Brady, who never misses time to injury, were to go down, the Patriots would be have a lot of work to do with either Hoyer or Stidham under center. Stidham is good enough to be the rookie backup, much like Jimmy Garoppolo, and is good enough to invest developmental time in this season with an eye on the future. Hoyer’s days were numbered in April. And with Brady’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, developing the worst-case-scenario replacement in the form of Stidham has to be a part of the plan this fall.
Demaryius Thomas gone…for now – Many, including myself, thought it was weird that Thomas was taken off of PUP. He seemed the perfect candidate to stay on PUP to open the year as he worked back from last December’s torn Achilles. Then Thomas caught seven passes, including a pair of touchdowns, in the preseason finale and he looked like he was ready to be in the receiver rotation on opening night. So it was surprising when reports emerged that he was one of the Patriots cuts to get to 53. Of course it’s only surprising if Thomas is gone for good. He certainly feels like a guy who could return. Maybe when another player goes on IR with a designation to return. Maybe after Week 1 when his salary is no longer guaranteed for the season. Thomas recently said that the Patriots were the only team interested in him this offseason. He also doesn’t have to pass through waivers. So while it was initially a surprise to see his name among the cuts, it won’t be a surprise to see him return to New England’s roster. Maybe very soon. If he doesn’t return, then it will certainly be a real surprise the way Thomas was handled this summer.
A second (round) chance – Duke Dawson was a 2018 second-round pick by the Patriots. Less than a year and a half later, and having never suited up for a game in New England, he was shipped to the Broncos in what was essentially a face-saving deal of little return. Dawson and a seventh-round pick go to Denver in return for a sixth-round selection. Not exactly good value for a second-rounder a year removed. Dawson opened his career on IR with a hamstring and when he returned late last season was a healthy scratch. Sure he was fighting in a group that included a lot of talent, but that didn’t keep a 2019 second-round pick (Joejuan Williams), a 2018 undrafted rookie (J.C. Jackson) and a former undrafted rookie making $3 million on an RFA tender (Jonathan Jones) from making the roster. The reality is that Dawson wasn’t good enough. He proved once again that it’s not how you get to New England it’s what you do once you get there. And had a trade not been found, he may have been the first-ever second-round pick cut in his second season in Belichick’s 20 years in New England. But Belichick didn’t have to cross that somewhat embarrassing bridge, he found a trade partner instead. Now, Dawson gets a new NFL life in Denver.
Bodine in line to start – When word broke that David Andrews was dealing with blood clots in his lungs it seemingly left two options for the team captain. He would either be on IR designated to return if possible later in the year or on IR for good. Either way, it pushed Ted Karras into the starting center role to open the season. While that likely remains the case for the Sunday night opener against the Steelers and maybe a few weeks beyond that, the trade for former Bills/Bengals center Russell Bodine could mean that Karras’ days as a starter are limited. Bodine has started every game of his NFL career, 74 contests including all 16 in each season prior to last year. Karras has five starts in three season as a reserve in New England. Bodine’s arrival, the trade officially announced on Saturday, is not only a very good insurance policy at center but a guy who would seem destined to unseat the somewhat unproven Karras at some point.
David Andrews, Derek Rivers gone for the season – Speaking of Andrews, the fact that he and third-year defensive end Derek Rivers were placed on injured reserve at final cuts means they are lost for the entire season. A player needs to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible to be designated to return during the season. Andrews’ issue with blood clots is obviously a sensitive one and not a typical football injury. He now has a year to try to get his health right and figure out his football future, posting on Instagram that he’s doing everything he can to get back on the field in 2020. But his leadership and solid play could certainly be very much missed in the middle of a line that already as an unproven, first-year starter at left tackle in Isaiah Wynn. Rivers’ latest injury – he also missed his rookie season to a torn ACL – is another blow to the development and career of the former top (third-round) pick. His attitude and work ethic have impressed everyone in his time in New England, including Belichick, but it’s getting harder and harder to envision that Rivers has much of a productive future in Foxborough.
Home of the undrafted! – For the 16th consecutive season the Patriots kept at least one undrafted rookie on the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. This year that includes both Olszewski and fellow receiver Jakobi Meyers. Over the years some of the undrafted guys have turned into solid role players – names like current running back Brandon Bolden or Mike Wright back in the day. Others – you may have heard of or seen a guy named Malcolm Butler – have turned into stars. Who knows where the journey will go for these two rookie receivers, but they are in a place where they will be given a fair shot. Now only their talent, work ethic and a little bit of luck control where they go from this opening opportunity.
Keion Crossen trade comes together late, shows depth – The Patriots and Texans were two of the busiest teams in terms of trade activity as the cuts to 53 approached. New England swung three trades for backup offensive linemen and the Dawson deal. Houston’s trade action was a bit more star-studded, shipping former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks (for little return after a franchise tag contract dispute) and then giving up the house to get left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills from the Dolphins. New England and Houston then got together on a deal just before the deadline for cuts that sent second-year reserve defensive back/special teams ace Keion Crossen to the Texans for a sixth-round pick. Crossen was apparently the 53rd man on the roster, as his departure opened a slot for Olszewski. The deal showed the depth of the Patriots at two spots – cornerback and special teamers. All summer it looked New England had elite depth a cornerback and more NFL-caliber players than roster spots at the position. Of course it’s Belichick himself that always reminds us that depth in August is a lot different than depth during the regular season.
Deatrich Wise, Elandon Roberts stick around – Each summer fans and media tend to pick a few veteran players they perceive to be on the roster bubble. Arguments are made as to why each guy is no longer needed by New England. Preseason playing time is monitored and analyzed. Third-year defensive end Deatrich Wise and fourth-year linebacker Elandon Roberts were two of those guys this summer. Both were left standing on the 2019 53-man roster when all was said and done. Both bring plenty of experience to their depth roles on the defensive front. Maybe there was a point that they were seen inside the football offices at Gillette as possible cuts. Maybe it was all just pure speculation by the media and fans. Either way the fact is that both trusted veteran contributors remain employed with the Patriots.
Shady information – One of the more notable names cut elsewhere in the AFC East on Saturday was Bills running back LeSean McCoy. The veteran has clearly lost a step from his prime, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry last fall when he rushed for a mere 514 yards in 14 games. Not long after his release, NFL Network reported that the teams showing early interest in McCoy were the Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers and…Patriots. New England wouldn’t seem to be in the market for a running back, having kept five guys on the 53-man roster. The group already includes Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, third-round pick Damien Harris and veteran backup/special teamer Brandon Bolden. There wouldn’t seem to be room for another veteran. Or reason for the Patriots to have interest in McCoy. Something smells a little funny with this report.
Tight end remains a question – The Patriots final roster included a pair of tight ends in veteran newcomer Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo, a 2018 seventh-round pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The team could also have a pair of veterans who are suspended by the NFL to open the season – Benjamin Watson (4 games) and Lance Kendricks (1 game). There is a lot to sift through in the coming days, but the tight end position in New England may not be settled for a while. It’s hard to get too excited over LaCosse or Izzo, and better options may become available.
Stay tuned! – All teams, including the Patriots, will dive into the waiver wire before noon on Sunday. Though the Patriots have the final claim in the waiver process thanks to winning the Super Bowl, finding a guy they feel is an upgrade can’t be ruled out. The tight end position, in particular, might be a spot where a veteran could be pursued. Old friend Dwayne Allen was released with an injury in Miami. He’s one of many names to keep an eye on, both on the waiver wire and open free agent market. The bottom line is that right now the Patriots have ‘A’ 53-man roster, maybe not ‘THE’ 53-man roster. It could and likely will be a fluid situation.