Trimming any NFL roster from 75 down to the league-mandated 53 during the last week of the preseason always offers up some tough decisions as well as a few big surprises. On Friday, the Patriots were prepared to send 22 deserving guys packing and they also weren’t afraid to make the bold decision.
Bill Belichick released three big-name players during Friday’s final roster cutdown, and some of the names definitely come as a surprise. Dan Koppen, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and even former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch all received their figurative pink slips, as New England whittled down their roster.
While there were plenty of questionable moves around the NFL on Friday, the release of these three players is arguably one of the most surprising.
Hoyer, a former undrafted free agent from Michigan State, had carved out a solid place as Tom Brady‘s No. 2 over the past few years and really asserted himself as a legitimate option under center during his limited opportunities in the spotlight. Ryan Mallett‘s continued development over the past two seasons and during the current preseason definitely helped push Hoyer out the door.
Koppen, a Pro Bowler and the Patriots’ starting center since 2003, fell victim to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1 of the 2011 season. But the center was always expected to be back in New England, delivering the ball to Brady on every snap. The emergence of Dan Connolly as an option at center, paired with Koppen’s noticeable struggles throughout training camp, were likely factors in his release.
As for Branch, he’s been jettisoned from town once before but continues to profess his love for Belichick’s system and has a very strong relationship with Brady. Following the release of both Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney last week, the expectation was that Branch had locked down the No. 3 receiver slot on the roster. Suddenly, though, it appears Julien Edelman and Aaron Hernandez will be the ones filling that role this season.