Sunday 7: Decisions loom in Patriots' final roster cuts

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1 – The Patriots may not have one of the more talented, star-studded rosters in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean New England hasn’t been a relatively competitive group through training camp and preseason action.

Heading toward Tuesday’s mandated cuts down to the 53-man roster, it would seem Bill Belichick has plenty of decisions to make at a number of positions in regards to the final handful of roster spots. Wide receiver, running back, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and special teams roles would all appear to be spots where the final name on the depth chart could be a tough choice.

One aspect that often gets lost in the final roster moves is that there are similarities to the decisions that are made in the draft.
Stacking the depth chart both vertically and horizontally across positions is a part of the process. For example, is the fifth running back more valuable to the team than say the third tight end?

Another similarity between roster construction and the draft is the debate between need and best player available. Again, maybe a coach prefers to have a third tight end on the roster, but if that guy isn’t nearly the level of football player that the fifth running back is then it’s probably not in the team’s best interest to keep him around just to fill out a slot on the depth chart.

Over the next couple days, Belichick, Matt Groh and the rest of the Foxborough brain trust will have tough decisions to make in regards to the roster. Maybe the guys who are cut aren’t exactly starting-caliber talent, but they’ve indeed competed well this summer in an effort to make things difficult for the New England decision makers.

2 – A strong class of undrafted rookies is part of the bunched up names when it comes to the bottom of the Patriots’ roster. It almost feels like a formality at this point that New England will extend its streak of at least one rookie free agent making the 53-man roster to 19 straight years. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple undrafted players in the mix when the dust settles on the regular season as safety/special teamer Brenden Schooler, offensive lineman Kody Russey and defensive linemen DaMarcus Mitchell and LaBryan Ray all would seem to have at least an outside shot of making the roster. Schooler has been groomed as a core special teams type since the day he arrived in New England this spring. Russey has made a run at an interior backup job up front similar to what James Ferentz has held in recent years. Mitchell has flashed on both defense and as a unique athlete on special teams, while Ray has the versatility and upside of potential future contributor.

3 – A couple health considerations will play a role in the initial 53-man roster makeup. Rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton reportedly underwent collarbone surgery this past week that will sideline him somewhere between six and eight weeks. In order for him to go on injured reserve with the ability to return, Thornton must be on the first iteration of the 53-man roster, which would allow him to be one of eight IR players over the course of the season to return to the team after missing a minimum of four games.

4 – Ty Montgomery entered the conversation in regards to health and roster spots due to an ankle injury suffered Friday night in Las Vegas that saw the veteran newcomer carted to the locker room. Montgomery has had an impressive summer and appeared to be not just in the mix for a roster spot but for a relatively significant role in the offense as a runner and a pass catcher. Depending on the severity of the injury he could occupy a roster spot while recovering or might also be in line for the IR return route.

5 – The Patriots selected nine players in last April’s NFL Draft. It’s interesting to see where those guys are in terms of roles and roster spots four months later. Top pick Cole Strange has been handed the starting job at left guard. Thornton was having a strong summer and will be in the mix when healthy as a second-round pick. Marcus Jones (third round) and Jack Jones (fourth round) have both shown flashes in opportunities at cornerback, the former in the slot and the latter on the outside, to earn roster spots. And fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe has shown enough to stick around as a developmental backup quarterback for the future. Fourth-round running back Pierre Strong Jr. hasn’t done much to stick out, and not surprisingly could be in line for a redshirt year that’s common among New England rookie runners.
Sixth-rounder Kevin Harris has shown a bit more in preseason action with the ball in his hands, but may have gotten dinged on a long run against the Raiders. Neither running back really did enough to earn a roster spot or a role. Sixth-round defensive lineman Sam Roberts flashed at times in reserve action up front, but the defensive line group is a crowded one. Offensive lineman Chasen Hines (sixth round) missed the start of camp on NFI, while fellow lineman Andrew Stueber (seventh round) is already lost for the year in NFI.

6 – While New England will have to be down to the 53-man roster limit by Tuesday at 4 p.m., that won’t be the final roster by any means.
Beyond moves related to players going on IR, the Patriots will likely be in line to consider tweaking the roster heading toward the regular season based on guys hitting the waiver wire from the 31 other teams. Uncertain depth charts at offensive line, linebacker, tight end and cornerback could be areas the team might be open to an injection of talent during what’s a hectic couple of days across the NFL. It’s also possible that Belichick could work the trade market in the days and hours leading up to final cuts. While there’s been speculation that higher profile players like wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor or tackle Isaiah Wynn might be trade considerations, deals for players on the back end of the roster could also be an option as New England works to fill out its depth across the board.

7 – With Friday night’s loss to the Raiders, the Patriots finished the 2022 preseason with a 1-2 record. It’s the fifth time in Belichick’s 23 seasons as the head coach in New England that the team has had a losing record in the preseason. The last two times the Patriots had a losing record in the preseason (2017, 2012), New England opened the regular season with a 2-2 mark. After a disappointing August, this year’s squad opens the regular season with a trip to Miami, a road game in Pittsburgh, the home opener against Baltimore and then a visit to Green Bay. A 2-2 record through those four games would have to be considered a solid start to the new season.

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