New England Patriots: Anthony Gonzalez the First to Fall in Crowded WR Corps

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIMay 30, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 01: Anthony Gonzalez #11 of Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball while defended by Eugene Wilson #26 of the Houston Texans during the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 1, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Well, we have our answer. Everyone who had Anthony Gonzalez in the "first wide receiver to get cut" pool, come down and accept your prize.

In all seriousness, you knew it would come to this. When a team goes on a spending binge at one position, like the New England Patriots did with wide receiver, you know cuts, many of them, are inevitable. No team goes into the regular season with 12 receivers on an active roster. Teams look crazy if they keep seven.

The first attempt to clear the picture occurred yesterday. The Patriots cut ties with Gonzalez, a former Colts wideout who, in his prime, was a dangerous option while catching passes from Peyton Manning. But that prime was years ago, and trips to injured reserve in 2009 and 2010, as well as a 2011 season in which he played only eight games, hurt his value.

Still, there was reason to think New England's move to sign Gonzalez in March was a quiet but good one, especially if the 27-year-old could kick the injury bug. But he was not on the field for OTAs, and soon after, the experiment was over.

Gonzalez was the first to go. He won't be the last.

The Patriots will continue to make cuts, and well-known names are going to get the ax. Eleven receivers are still with the club, and it's a group that includes Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth and Chad Ochocinco.

In the Bill Belichick era, the most receivers the team has ever made it to the regular season with is seven, which was the case in 2007 and 2005. For the most part, the team has been at five or six.

If the Patriots leave the preseason with six receivers, the picture is cloudy. Welker, Lloyd and Matthew Slater (for special teams work) are the only locks. Britt Davis, seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert and undrafted rookie Matthew Roark are the likeliest candidates for practice squad assignment or outright release.

That leaves a middle class of Branch, Ochocinco, Gaffney, Stallworth and Julian Edelman competing for three, or at most four, spots. It'll be a competitive preseason battle, and whatever the result, popular names will be on the outside looking in.

Maybe Gaffney and Stallworth, key ingredients of Josh McDaniels's record-setting offense in 2007, will draw the short straw. Or maybe it'll be Edelman, the team's top punt returner who made headlines with his play on defense. Maybe it'll be time for the Ochocinco project to receive its final blow. Or maybe Branch's synergy with Brady won't be enough this time for that valued roster spot.

That's the downside of opting with strength in numbers. The Patriots will find their answers at receiver. But when those numbers get bloated, as they are now, the necessity of that tough decision becomes all the more clear.