Predicting New England Patriots' First Wave of Roster Cuts
While 90-man rosters may be an indispensable luxury during the grind of training camp, preseason games are geared towards the cutdown to the final 53-man regular-season roster. As such, the New England Patriots and other teams around the league are preparing to pare down their rosters over the next few weeks.
The Pats will have three preseason games with their current allotment of players before the first wave of cuts on August 26 requires them to shave their roster down to 75 players, per NFLLabor.com. However, for the longshot hopefuls, this week essentially represents their do-or-die period, as starters and other roster locks will eat up reps during the second and third preseason weeks in preparation for the regular season.
Though many of these players are not realistic candidates for the final squad, there are several players the Pats might consider stashing on injured reserve, as well as bubble players who have seen their stocks fizzle. With that in mind, let's take a look at the players most likely to see their run in Foxboro end soon.
90-81: The Longest Shots
WR Brian Tyms
WR Derrick Johnson
RB Jonas Gray
OL Chris Martin
DT Eathyn Manumaleuna
LB Taylor McCuller
LB Cameron Gordon
LB Deontae Skinner
S Shamiel Gary
CB Dax Swanson
With all due respect, these players are effectively camp bodies, as it would be an upset if any of them sniffed the final roster. Martin is currently on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, so he could be placed on the Reserve/NFI list as a means of redshirting him for 2014. Gordon could be an IR candidate as well, as he is currently on the mend, per NEPatriotsDraft.com's Oliver Thomas.
Swanson is the toughest cut here, as the 23-year-old spent most of the 2013 season on the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad. However, with undrafted rookies Malcolm Butler and Travis Hawkins impressing at corner, per ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, Swanson could be a victim of the numbers game at the position.
80. LS Tyler Ott
For a position as anonymous as long snapper, economics often make the final decision. With incumbent Danny Aiken competing against rookie free agent Tyler Ott, the former's $725,000 cap hit might seemingly place him at a slight disadvantage when compared to the latter's $420,000 hit.
Still, that's a relatively negligible difference, especially when considering that the Pats have a relatively manageable $6.1 million to work with, via Spotrac.com. That only counts the top 51 contracts at the moment, but assuming a couple undrafted free agents work their way onto the roster, New England should still have over $5 million in breathing room.
If the Pats really need space to hammer out a long-term extension (Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski), shedding a veteran contract (Dan Connolly, Tommy Kelly) would be the likelier move. Thus, the battle between Ott and Aiken is likely to come down to performance.
Given Aiken's reliability last season, the veteran likely holds the upper hand. Indeed, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss opined that Ott was behind in the competition, noting the rookie's inconsistencies in camp. The competition has ostensibly become futile, so do not expect Ott to continue holding a valuable roster spot.
79. OL Braxston Cave
The second-year interior lineman from Notre Dame spent the entire 2013 season on the Patriots practice squad. Though he remains eligible for that role again this season, New England's glut of interior linemen could leave Cave out of options.
The one-on-one pass-rushing drills allow for greater insight into competition among the offensive and defensive linemen. Though the drills generally favor the defense, Cave's struggles in that department have placed his roster hopes in jeopardy. Both Reiss and The Boston Globe's Erik Frenz have noted Cave's struggles against defensive tackle Sealver Siliga over different days.
In many ways, Cave's struggles against the mammoth-sized Siliga reflect his limitations as a player. Though he possesses nice size at 6'3" and 305 pounds, his short arms (32 inches, per NFL.com) don't allow him to drive with the leverage and power necessary for interior linemen.
Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon are making strong pushes for starting spots, while the Pats figure to invest a year of development in sixth-round rookie Jon Halapio. The numbers in the middle are crowded, which puts Cave at a disadvantage against someone like tackle Jordan Devey.
78. RB Tyler Gaffney
Tyler Gaffney's inclusion on this list should come as no surprise to Pats followers. The Carolina Panthers' sixth-round draft selection tore his ACL, and the Patriots pounced when Carolina attempted to sneak the rookie through the injury waiver designation.
Consequently, the Pats will stash the Stanford product on their 90-man roster until the first wave of cuts, when they can place him on injured reserve without exposing him to waivers. Much like they did with Jake Ballard two seasons ago and Josh Barrett in 2010, New England is essentially taking a no-risk proposition with a player they see as possessing upside.
Gaffney is more intriguing than either Ballard or Barrett, in part because of the Patriots' uncertain 2015 outlook at running back. New England's back-by-committee philosophy makes it unlikely that all of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden will return at elevated salaries. If healthy, Gaffney figures to work his way into the rotation next year.
I actually mocked Gaffney to the Patriots in the sixth-round of my draft primer, but the Panthers snatched him up two picks earlier than that projection. It's not hard to imagine why New England would be interested. A decisive one-cut runner with nice vision, Gaffney's precocious pass-blocking and receiving ability also makes him a fairly polished back.
The ex-Cardinal will not register on the radar in 2014. But if either Ridley or Bolden leave, Gaffney would be an especially suitable replacement as a powerful early down back.
77. DE Jake Bequette
Jake Bequette is on the dubious track to becoming one of the Patriots' most disappointing draft selections in recent seasons. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the former third-rounder has played just 43 defensive snaps over his first two seasons in the league, with 24 healthy scratches to his credit (not including the postseason).
Will Smith and Michael Buchanan are competing for a sub-package edge-rushing role, but both figure to make the final roster, barring injury. Sixth-rounder Zach Moore is facing a huge leap in competition after playing against Division II collegiate competition, but the 6'6", 275-pound rookie possesses tantalizing physical tools that make him a roster lock for developmental purposes.
Thus, it's hard to imagine Bequette positioned anywhere but the bottom of the totem pole. The former Arkansas Razorback appears to recognize his dire situation, as observers like CSN's Mike Giardi have noted his improvement in the pass-rushing drills.
Unfortunately, Bequette's track record means that he must continue building off that positive momentum, as any setbacks could be fatal to his roster hopes. Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald reported that Bequette left practice on Friday with an undisclosed injury. Though the severity is unknown, any prolonged absence likely axes whatever slim hopes he had of reaching the final 53.
The Patriots could keep the third-year defensive end around simply to keep the starters fresh. But judging by his first two seasons, Bequette appears eminently replaceable.
76. WR Jeremy Gallon
When the Pats selected the diminutive yet productive Jeremy Gallon in the seventh-round, it appeared as though they would perpetuate their exemplary track record with slot receivers. A prolific collegiate receiver with steady hands and explosive open-field burst, Gallon does have the tools to overcome his size limitations, much like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman did in Foxboro.
However, Gallon has missed the entire offseason program with an undisclosed injury, per NESN's Doug Kyed (among various outlets). His absence is a mystery, but at this point, the deficit he faces compared to the other receivers is insurmountable.
Thus, some like SBNation's Rich Hill have pinpointed Gallon as a prime injured reserve candidate. That's likely for the best, considering the current receiving corps' composition. Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are likely locks to see significant playing time. Brandon LaFell's three-year contract gives him security, and cutting the chord on 2013 fourth-rounder Josh Boyce would appear premature.
Excluding special teams ace Matthew Slater, that's still six receivers on the final roster. Even if Gallon had impressed, it would have been difficult to squeeze him onto the roster without any injuries arising. A year of behind-the-scenes development will benefit the Michigan product, who can compete for a role in earnest next season.