To make room for Thomas, the Patriots made the surprising move of releasing cornerback Ras-I Dowling, whom they selected with the No. 33 pick—the first pick of the second round—in 2011, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.
They earned that pick by trading away the No. 89 pick in 2010 to the Carolina Panthers—a brilliant move until they chose Dowling. According to a Patriots Today post-draft special, the Patriots had been offered at least one trade for the No. 33 pick during the 2011 draft, but turned it down; in retrospect, they would have been better off taking that trade and not taking Dowling—or at least picking up some extra picks and taking Dowling later in the draft.
Dowling played in just 10 games in his two seasons in New England (starting two) and had just one interception. Both of his seasons ended on injured reserve; his 2011 season ended after just three games with surgery to fix hip and hamstring issues.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Dowling, who had a freak history of injuries during his final two years at Virginia, continued that string of injuries in Foxboro. Unfortunately for Dowling, the old maxim "You can't make the club from the tub" caught up with him.
Given recent history, maybe Dowling will get a second chance with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have claimed several Patriots off waivers this offseason, including defensive linemen Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.
According to Patscap.com, Dowling's release carries about $715,000 in dead money for 2013, and about $590,000 for 2014, but, on the whole, it does slightly reduce the Patriots' 2013 cap hit.
Dowling marks the third second-round cornerback in the last six seasons to be cut before the end of his third season in New England.
Terrence Wheatley was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft and had a similar injury history both prior to and after the draft. He ended his 2008 season on injured reserve with a broken wrist and played 11 games over his first two seasons. He was released midway through the 2010 season without having played a single game.
Darius Butler was selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. He did the best of the three—playing in 29 games over his first two seasons and starting 8. He also recorded three receptions his rookie season, but somehow fell out of favor with Bill Belichick, because he was released before the 2011 season started. Unlike Wheatley, Butler has carved out a niche for himself, and is likely to play for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013.
The draft is a crapshoot. High-round defensive backs, however, have not been a strength for the Patriots (especially when one also considers safeties); CB/S Devin McCourty looks to be their only major success over the last six years. Patriots fans can only hope that, in the future, the Patriots re-evaluate their drafting process so they can break the cycle.