Cutdown day came early Sunday for an unfortunate group of New England Patriots roster long shots.
To satisfy the NFL’s new COVID-19 guidelines, which require teams to trim their rosters to 80 men before holding full-squad training camp practices, the Patriots released nine players on the eve of the reporting date for rookies and quarterbacks.
Seven were undrafted rookies (QBs J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke; wide receivers Will Hastings, Sean Riley and Isaiah Zuber; linebacker Kyahva Tezino and defensive tackle Courtney Wallace) and two were second-year pros who went undrafted in 2019 (safeties Malik Gant and Adarius Pickett). New England also cut veteran cornerback Lenzy Pipkins last week.
The Patriots could have chosen to carry a full 90-man roster until Aug. 16, but doing so would have required them to hold split-squad training sessions.
“You just hate to see so many young guys not get an opportunity,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Sunday night on his “Double Coverage” live stream. “(With) everything that’s happening now, you see a lot of teams cut down from 90 to 80 guys, you’re seeing guys get released who never really got an opportunity because of the pandemic, and that really sucks. …
“Especially for us. Our team is always … looking for the next guy that’s undrafted. The J.C. Jacksons, the Malcolm Butlers, the David Andrews — the guys that come in undrafted that no one thinks about and next thing you know, they’re starting playing in the biggest games of the year. So it is tough to watch some of these young guys have to get released before even getting a chance to step into the building.”
A few such players did survive New England’s initial cut, however, and will look to extend the Patriots’ streak of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on their Week 1 roster to 17 seasons. Here is an updated look at Patriots’ training camp roster, with the UDFAs marked in bold:
Brian Hoyer, Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham
Splitting reps in this abbreviated camp between five signal-callers would’ve been close to impossible, so Smith and Lewerke got the ax. Newton vs. Stidham will be the marquee roster battle over the coming weeks. It also will be interesting to see whether New England keeps all three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster — amid coronavirus concerns, extra insurance at the game’s most important position can’t hurt — or tries to carry Hoyer to its expanded 16-man practice squad.
Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Sony Michel, J.J. Taylor, James White
Taylor made it through the first round of roster cuts, and the 5-foot-5 Arizona product boasts more upside than your typical undrafted Patriots back. He still faces long odds for a roster spot, however, with last season’s entire position group set to return. Michel, who’s coming off offseason foot surgery, and Harris, the 2019 third-round draft pick who hardly played as a rookie, have the most to prove in camp.
Jakob Johnson, Danny Vitale
These two likely are fighting for one roster spot. Rookie tight end Dalton Keene also has H-back experience and could factor into the fullback equation this season.
Devin Asiasi, Rashod Berry, Jake Burt, Ryan Izzo, Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse
The Patriots will be relying on an infusion of youth to revive their struggling tight end group. Four of these six players are rookies, with UDFAs Berry and Burt sticking around to join third-round picks Asiasi and Keene. Berry played both ways at Ohio State and could have a role on defense, as well.
Quincy Adeboyejo, Damiere Byrd, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Marquise Lee, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Devin Ross, Mohamed Sanu, Matthew Slater, Jeff Thomas
One of the big winners of the weekend was Thomas, the only one of New England’s four undrafted wideouts to survive the first cut. Thomas received just $2,500 guaranteed from the Patriots, tied with Lewerke for the lowest total on the team. He’ll contend with the likes of Byrd, Lee, Meyers and Olszewski for the final spots on the depth chart behind Edelman, Sanu and Harry.
David Andrews, Yodny Cajuste, Marcus Cannon, Korey Cunningham, Jermaine Eluemunor, Hjalte Froholdt, Justin Herron, Shaq Mason, Michael Onwenu, Joe Thuney, Najee Toran, Dustin Woodard, Isaiah Wynn
No changes to this group. Day 3 draft picks Onwenu (sixth round), Herron (sixth) and Woodard (seventh) are the newcomers.
Beau Allen, Tashawn Bower, Adam Butler, Nick Coe, Byron Cowart, Lawrence Guy, Bill Murray, Nick Thurman, Deatrich Wise
Lean on depth along the D-line last season, the Patriots will give both Coe and Murray chances to earn spots this summer. Coe played everywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker at Auburn and once was considered a potential first-round prospect. Murray dominated at William & Murray in the FCS and received $125,000 in guaranteed money from the Patriots.
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Terez Hall, De’Jon Harris, Dont’a Hightower, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon King, Cassh Maluia, Derek Rivers, John Simon, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich
Harris, whose $140,000 guarantee was the highest of any Patriots UDFA, got the nod over Tezino, who was released. Both are undersized, hard-charging middle linebackers in the Elandon Roberts mold.
Myles Bryant, Justin Bethel, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, D’Angelo Ross, Joejuan Williams
The Patriots have a long history of finding undrafted gems at cornerback, and that alone makes Bryant a player worth watching. New England is absolutely loaded at this position, though, returning every 2019 contributor plus Ross, who impressed as a UDFA last summer before landing on injured reserve.
Terrence Brooks, Patrick Chung, Cody Davis, Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips
The releases of Gant and Pickett came three months after the Patriots cut ties with Obi Melifonwu. All six remaining safeties have legitimate chances of making the 53.
P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, K Justin Rohrwasser