Trimming the New England Patriots’ roster will be a tough task for head coach Bill Belichick this summer.
Here’s our best attempt to whittle the Patriots’ 2021 roster from 83 players down to 53:
We probably could have made this entire exercise easier if we only kept Jones and Newton. But Bill Belichick likes security at the quarterback position, so it definitely would not be surprising to see Stidham stick around for another year.
This is assuming Newton is the Patriots’ Week 1 starter. If it’s Jones, then the entire group might get a reshuffling.
RUNNING BACK (5)
We have Brandon Bolden off the roster at this point. In 2017, the Patriots cut Bolden and then re-signed him two days later after placing players on injured reserve. It would cost the Patriots $500,000 in dead cap but that might be a better option than the risk of losing a younger player on waivers while going through that process.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
This is still an area that seems like it could use an upgrade, but remember New England will have two tight ends on the field for the majority of offensive snaps. The Patriots could still look to add a veteran like Golden Tate, Dede Westbrook or Damiere Byrd, but they also have some intriguing depth with Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon on the outside looking in at this group.
TIGHT END (4)
You’ll probably notice at this point that we don’t have fullback Jakob Johnson on the list. That’s not an oversight. New England has received a roster exemption for Johnson, for now, but that does not carry over into the regular season. The Patriots will run the majority of their offense in two tight-end sets this season, reducing the need for a fullback. Think we’re crazy? Check the Patriots’ rosters from 2010 to 2012 when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were being deployed in two tight-end sets. No full-time fullback.
Sammy Morris played 85 snaps at fullback in 2010, and guard Dan Connolly and tight end Alge Crumpler saw reps at the position, per PFF’s charting.
In 2011, fullback Lousaka Polite played 24 snaps, and New England also used Green-Ellis, Hernandez, Gronkowski, linebacker Dane Fletcher, tight end Dan Gronkowski, guard Donald Thomas, center Ryan Wendell and tackle Nate Solder in the backfield.
In 2012, fullback Lex Hilliard played nine snaps. Connolly, Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez and tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells played in the backfield.
If 2013, after Hernandez’s arrest and subsequent release, fullback James Develin came in and played 369 offensive snaps.
All of this is to say the Patriots can figure it out at fullback without a full-time player at the position in a two-tight end offense. They can shift the responsibilities of an extra blocker over to one of their tight ends. Smith and Henry will probably see some backfield snaps, and when the Patriots need a true lead blocker, then Keene or an offensive lineman can go into the backfield.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
This is a little bit light, but the Patriots have a ton of versatility. Brown can play left or right tackle, Herron can play tackle or guard, Karras can play center or guard, Onwenu can play guard or right tackle, Sherman can potentially play tackle or guard and Wynn can play tackle or guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
The Patriots needed to reshape this group, and that’s exactly what they did by adding Anderson, Barmore and Godchaux while brining back Guy and Wise.
EDGE DEFENDER (4)
Kyle Van Noy
This looks light, but remember that Dont’a Hightower, Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche can contribute on the edge.
Terez Hall was a tough cut after he flashed in 2020. It’s possible he could beat out Bentley or Jennings for a roster spot.
Van Noy can also move to off-ball linebacker full time. Winovich and Judon have experience in the box, as well.
This is another position New England could look to upgrade in free agency. Jason McCourty is still available, and the Patriots have six open spots on their roster.
The Patriots can keep just four safeties since Bryant, Jones and Williams can all play the position. Special-teamer Cody Davis only played two snaps at safety last season for New England but took on a greater defensive role in past stops with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6)
If we’re being realistic, even including Bolden, the Patriots will probably keep one more core special-teamer. The top options are Brandon King and LaRoy Reynolds. King has missed two full seasons after tearing his quad in 2019, so we’re unsure on his status. He remains on the roster, however.
Like Bolden, they are initial cut candidates who could be brought back after a player is placed on injured reserve.
Rookie linebacker Cameron McGrone tore his ACL in November and is a candidate to begin the season on the PUP list.
CANDIDATES TO RETURN
RB Brandon Bolden
LB Brandon King
LB LaRoy Reynolds
LB Raekwon McMillan
Bolden, and either King or Reynolds are candidates to stick around in some capacity for special teams. The Patriots could use McMillan for more depth at linebacker. McMillan also could beat out Hall, Bentley or Jennings.
TOP PRACTICE SQUAD CANDIDATES
FB Jakob Johnson
WR Tre Nixon
WR Kristian Wilkerson
LB Terez Hall
S Joshuah Bledsoe
We have five (Jones, Barmore, Perkins, Stevenson and Sherman) of the Patriots’ eight-man draft class making the roster with McGrone starting on the PUP list and Nixon and Bledsoe currently on the outside looking in. The Patriots have yet to sign any undrafted free agents.