New England Patriots Players Most Likely to Be Cut Before 2017 Season
It isn't easy to make the New England Patriots roster, where many of the core players are entrenched.
When the team acquires veteran talent, it usually does so with specific roles in mind. Head coach Bill Belichick just isn't going to add a guy like Stephon Gilmore or Mike Gillislee and then turn around and cut him.
Yet, the Patriots are going to have to make some cuts in order to get down to the 53-man roster limit at the end of the summer. There will be some intense competition up until that point to ensure only the best players stick with New England's championship-caliber roster.
Complicating the entire process is the fact that New England only spent four draft picks on rookies this season. This means many of the team's cuts are likely to be veteran players and perhaps names we're very familiar with. With the exception of the elite, no player is going to have a roster spot guaranteed.
Which players are likely to be cut before the start of the season? We're going to examine that here.
Virtually Every Undrafted Free Agent
The Patriots didn't have a large draft class because the team used its draft capital to bring in veteran talent. Seeing as how this was already a championship roster to begin with, this was a smart move because many rookies wouldn't measure up.
This is why it's difficult to see many undrafted free agents making the final roster. There are exceptions, of course. The team obviously thinks highly of linebacker Harvey Langi and tight end Jacob Hollister, as the Patriots gave the two $100,000 and $90,000 guaranteed, respectively.
Langi and Hollister might have a crack at the roster, as might Jason King. The Patriots don't have a ton of guard depth behind starters Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, so King might be able to stick.
Otherwise, we're looking at a lot of undrafted rookies who have little-to-no chance of making the regular-season roster.
Wideouts Austin Carr and Cody Hollister are trying to edge into a group that includes Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Andrew Hawkins and Matthew Slater. Good luck with that.
Defensive backs like D.J. Killings and Damarius Travis will be trying to crack a secondary that is stacked with top-end talent. They're certainly not going to beat out starters like Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore or Devin McCourty.
Now, we obviously cannot completely discount the chances of every undrafted free agent—Butler himself joined the team as one a few years ago.
However, this is a team that appears to be selling out for another title in 2017, so unless these guys can contribute right away, they're likely to end up on the cut pile or the practice squad at best.
We mentioned that it's going to be difficult for guys to make their way on to the roster at wide receiver. This holds true for the rookies and for former San Francisco 49ers man DeAndrew White.
There is a lot to like with White from a physical standpoint. He's 6'0" and 190 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds back at the scouting combine. However, his physical ability didn't translate to much production in his one season in San Francisco.
During the 2015 season, White caught just two passes for 18 yards and fumbled once.
In addition to facing a stacked receiver room, White hasn't exactly shined during offseason workouts. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald noted that he dropped two passes in a span of three throws from quarterback Jacoby Brissett in one June practice.
That's not how you impress the Patriots. Don't be surprised if White is one of the early roster cuts this summer.
*UPDATE: The Patriots announced the release of White on Thursday.
The Patriots brought in linebacker Jonathan Freeny after he had spent three seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
He was a significant role player in 2015—with 50 tackles, a pass defended and a forced fumble. However, he only appeared in five games last season and only produced 10 tackles before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve.
While Freeny is still trying to make his way back from injury, the Patriots have added third-round pick Derek Rivers to the linebacker group. He joins starters Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin, while Elandon Roberts and Rob Ninkovich are also in on the linebacker rotation. Plus, the Patriots seem pretty high on former practice-squad staple Trevor Bates.
The Patriots nearly tripled Bates' practice-squad salary last December, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
Also working against Freeny is the fact he's set to have a cap hit of more than $2.2 million. That's a hefty chunk of change for a guy who probably won't be asked to contribute much this season.
Freeny probably won't be an early cut, but he probably won't make the final roster either.
The Patriots don't have a whole lot of depth behind starting offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. However, backup LaAdrian Waddle seems like a prime candidate to be a cap casualty.
Waddle is set to have a cap hit of $1.12 million this season. Barring an injury, he isn't likely to see the field. He's appeared in just three games since being acquired in 2015.
Fourth-year tackle Cameron Fleming will actually earn just under $1.8 million this season. However, the Patriots thought enough of him to give him that amount as a restricted free agent. While Waddle has 24 career starts to Fleming's 14, all 14 of Fleming's have come in New England.
The Patriots also spent two of their four draft picks on developmental offensive tackles. Third-round selection Antonio Garcia should earn a roster spot, while sixth-round pick Conor McDermott may be a candidate for the practice squad.
Expect Garcia to push Waddle off the roster, while Fleming sticks around as the backup with starting experience.
Would the Patriots really risk cutting the brother of star tight end Rob Gronkowski? Sure, if it's in the best interest of the team. Glenn Gronkowski spent time on the team's practice squad last season and showed enough potential to earn a futures contract in February.
The problem for Gronkowski is that it's a numbers game at fullback, and the Patriots are likely to limit that number to one. James Develin has been that one for the past three seasons, and the Patriots inked him to a new two-year, $2.45 million contract in free agency.
If Gronkowski can show he's truly something special, he might be able to push Develin out next offseason, as the majority of Develin's $500,000 in guarantees will have been paid. For now, though, it's more likely that Gronkowski ends up back on the practice squad.
Expect New England to give Gronkowski some extended looks in the preseason in order to see what they have but to keep him off the final 53-man roster.
Running back D.J. Foster didn't see a lot of action last season. In fact, he had just seven carries and one reception in the regular season. This hasn't stopped him from having a positive outlook this offseason, though.
"[I] just focus on what I can do. I learn as much as I can from those guys," Foster said, per Phil Perry of CSNNE.com. "Enjoy the process. Enjoy the relationships I have in those rooms because every year people come and go. Learn as much as I can from every guy in that room, and go out there and compete with them and have fun."
People do come and go, and unfortunately for Foster, a couple of running backs have come this offseason.
He is now looking at a running back room that includes Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden. The first four are virtual locks to make the roster, while Bolden's special teams contributions could keep him around too.
This is why Foster appears to be the likely odd man out.
The good news for Foster is that he is eligible to stay with the team as a member of the practice squad. This is where he'll likely start the season, with an injury potentially opening the door for a roster return.
*All contract information via Spotrac.com.