New England Patriots: Biggest Snubs and Surprises from 53 Man Roster Cut
The New England Patriots whittled their roster down to 53 over the weekend, making a few tweaks here and there on Sunday before appearing to finalize things heading into Sunday's regular-season opener against the Bills in Buffalo. But the moves weren't without some controversy.
Here's a look at the biggest snubs and surprises from the 53-man roster cut.
Snubbed: Zoltan Mesko
The release of Tim Tebow drew more coverage on a national level, but the Patriots decision to cut Zoltan Mesko and go with rookie Ryan Allen had a greater impact on the franchise, and it is perhaps the greatest surprise of cutdown weekend for the team.
In three seasons, Mesko had established himself as one of the better young punters in the league, mastering the occasionally difficult wind conditions at Gillette Stadium and creating some consistency on the special teams unit as the holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. (He was also an tremendously engaging and pleasant guy who was a tireless advocate for various charities in the Boston area.)
It's important to remember that the move made sense from a practical perspective, as Mesko had a sizable cap hit and was set to be a free agent at year’s end. At the same time, Allen was competitive for the job, could be had a smaller rate and could ultimately have a higher ceiling.
But Mesko is one of the true good guys in the NFL, and he serves as an annual reminder that professional football is a business.
Surprise: Joe Vellano
The undersized defensive tackle out of Maryland struggled in his first two weeks of camp, but the uncertain medical situation surrounding Armond Armstead, his own ability to steer clear of injury and steady improvement over the course of the summer has helped him get to this point.
The 6'2", 285-pounder is more in the mold of a space-eater and not a penetrator, and he is one of eight undrafted free agents who have made the final roster.
As it stands at this point, Joe Vellano and former college teammate A.J. Francis will serve as the primary backups to starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. (However—and this isn't necessarily a comment on Vellano—the distinct lack of depth at defensive tackle could force the Patriots to switch to a three-man defensive front at some point, with Wilfork on the nose, Kelly and Chandler Jones as the two defensive ends, and defensive end Rob Ninkovich transitioning to outside linebacker. Just some food for thought.)
Snubbed: Daniel Fells
Daniel Fells was a veteran who came in as part of the 2012 free-agent class, and while he took a back seat to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, he was a steady and consistent presence as an extra tight end. Despite an occasional nagging inability to stay on the field, he was a solid performer for much of the summer and figured to be in the mix, especially with so much possibility for change at the tight end spot this offseason.
However, the emergence of rookie Zach Sudfeld and a cap number that wasn't quite commensurate with his on-field contribution made him expendable.
It wouldn't be a shock to see him return after the start of the season, taking the same path that veteran Deion Branch did last year. It would give the Patriots some financial flexibility (his salary wouldn't be guaranteed) and some roster flexibility (he could be moved on and off the roster as needed from week to week) as well.
Surprise: Ryan Allen
Rarely have punting battles been so closely followed, but the Patriots had a good one this summer between Allen and Mesko.
Allen, a former two-time Ray Guy Award winner, had a long way to go to try to unseat Mesko, who had not only achieved cult hero status in New England but managed to become one of the better young punters in the league. But a steady and consistent performance over the summer—as well as the fact that Allen would come at a far cheaper rate than Mesko—ultimately allowed him to win the job.
A 6'1", 215-pounder out of Louisiana Tech, Allen led the country with a 48-yard average last year while placing 20 of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
Snubbed: Leon Washington
One of the best kick returners in the league the past five years, Leon Washington was brought in to help break the Curse of Ellis Hobbs III. (Since Hobbs departed New England in a trade following the 2008 season, the Patriots have struggled to find consistency when it comes to kick return work.)
Despite the fact that he got precious little work in the preseason, it was initially believed he had made the final 53 after he survived Saturday's cuts. But he was cut loose on Sunday, and now, the kick return duties will likely be split between a handful of youngsters, including Matthew Slater, Shane Vereen, Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty and (maybe) Julian Edelman.
In addition, the release of Washington also makes us wonder who will serve as a possible backup to Vereen as the third-down back. None of the other running backs on the roster have a similar skill set (think Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk), which could mean the Patriots would modify their offense if Vereen was out for an extended stretch.
Surprise: James Develin
The Patriots have had a few fullbacks audition on a part-time basis over the past five-plus years (including Lousaka Polite and Lex Hilliard), but they haven't had a full-time fullback on the roster since Heath Evans had the job in 2008.
This year's candidate is James Develin, a Brown grad who surprised many by beating the odds and landing a roster spot. A 6'3", 260-pounder, he does have some positional versatility as a fullback/tight end type (which makes his inclusion on the final 53-man roster all the more confusing considering that the Patriots already have an experienced player who could conceivably fill both spots in Michael Hoomanawanui).
However, the 25-year-old will likely be asked to clear a path for the rest of New England's "between-the-tackles" backs in Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden.
Snubbed: Marquice Cole
Marquice Cole certainly isn't a world-class cornerback, but his special teams skills and the fact that he brought a small measure of depth to a position where New England was a little thin makes his release something of a surprise.
The Northwestern product, who has also been with the New York Jets in his four years in the NFL, had played well over the second half of the summer, showing some nice ball skills while working in the slot. (He had a pair of nice pass breakups in the preseason finale against the New Yoork Giants.)
In the end, a numbers game (the team needed more depth on the offensive and defensive lines) and the fact that rookie Logan Ryan had progressed nicely over the course of the summer likely played a sizable role in his release.
Surprise: Jake Bequette
The defensive end out of Arkansas essentially took a redshirt year in 2012, landing on the final 53-man roster but taking inactives for most of the season. But the 6'5", 265-pounder—taken in the third round in 2012—flashed positively at several times over the summer, including the preseason finale against the Giants.
As a result, Jake Bequette barely surpassed other backup defensive end candidates like Marcus Benard, Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis to land a spot on the roster again.
Snubbed: Jake Ballard
The Patriots invested a full year in the big tight end, who spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf because of a knee injury he suffered in Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the Giants. However, Jake Ballard struggled to get back to 100 percent over the course of the spring and summer, and he never really found his footing.
The emergence of the youngster Sudfeld and the sight of him playing deep into the second half of the fourth preseason game was an indicator that he wasn't destined for the roster.
Surprise: Adrian Wilson
This one doesn't necessarily fall under "surprises" in the strictest sense of the word, but it was still a little eye-opening to see Adrian Wilson land on injured reserve with a *cough* injury *cough" after playing deep into the second half in the preseason finale against the Giants. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, it was a hamstring injury.
Per Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, Wilson's IR designation isn't a short-term situation, but instead for the duration of the 2013 season. It’s debatable how much he could offer in 2014—by that point, he’d be 34 years old.
While there could be other things in play here, to us, it seems like a parting gift and show of respect for a veteran who has clearly already begun to serve as something of a mentor to a group of young defensive backs.
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