The Patriots have to cut their roster down to 53 players by Saturday afternoon, and they got a head start on the process on Friday.
Tight ends Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard were cut by the team early Friday afternoon, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Fells played the 2012 season with the Patriots, catching just four passes for 85 yards but making his biggest impact as a blocker and on special teams. Ballard spent 2012 on the Patriots’ injured reserve list after being claimed by the team last offseason. He suffered an ACL tear during Super Bowl XLVI while with the Giants and never seemed to fully recover this preseason.
Fells, 29, began his career with the St. Louis Rams, establishing himself as a viable receiving threat with 41 catches in 2010. He then spent the 2011 season with the Denver Broncos, pulling down 19 passes and three touchdowns before joining the Patriots.
Ballard, 25, played one season with the Giants, catching 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. The Giants waived him last offseason with the expectation of placing him on IR, but Bill Belichick swooped in and claimed the tight end off waivers before the plan went through.
Coming into this season, Fells and Ballard were expected to take on a major role in the Patriots’ offense, especially with Rob Gronkowski set to be out at least for the first few weeks of the season. An undisclosed injury kept Fells out for part of the preseason, allowing rookie Zach Sudfeld and veteran Michael Hoomanawanui to further establish themselves on the field. Meanwhile, Ballard never appeared to be at full health, which was apparent in his hobbled route running and that he didn’t catch a single pass this preseason.
Gronk’s return to the field, doing some running and agility drills, earlier this week may have instilled confidence that he could return sooner than expected and to keep him on the active 53-man roster for the start of the season, which may be the reasoning behind the release of both tight ends.