After bidding 27 players adieu, the New England Patriots locked in their initial 53-man roster Tuesday afternoon.
The word “initial” there is important. This Patriots roster almost certainly will not be identical to the one New England carries into next weekend’s regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton is expected to be moved to short-term injured reserve as early as Wednesday. Players who aren’t currently on the roster could come aboard via waiver claims, free agent signings or late-summer trades. Additional moves are coming.
1. Cutdown day surprises
There were no earth-shaking stunners in this year’s round of final cuts, but a few of New England’s moves did qualify as surprising.
Cornerback Justin Bethel, one of the NFL’s top punt gunners, was released after ranking second on the team in special teams snaps played last season. Initially viewed as a candidate to re-sign after Thornton moves to IR, Bethel posted a farewell message to the Patriots on Instagram, suggesting he’ll be playing elsewhere this season.
Undrafted defensive lineman LaBryan Ray also looked like a strong candidate to stick after making plays on a near-daily basis in training camp and the preseason, but he fell short, losing out to veteran Carl Davis and fellow rookies Sam Roberts (sixth round) and DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA).
2. UDFA streak continues
For the 19th consecutive season, the Patriots will open the season with at least one undrafted rookie on their 53-man roster. Two UDFAs made the cut this year: Mitchell and special teams-focused safety Brenden Schooler. Both are expected to primarily play in the kicking game, though Mitchell could have a role on defense, as well.
The initial 53 featured a total of 10 rookies, including Thornton.
Hines, a sixth-round pick out of LSU, beat out the likes of James Ferentz, Kody Russey, Arlington Hambright and Will Sherman despite missing all of spring practice and the first half of training camp with an injury.
3. Lean at tight end
The Patriots’ initial 53 features zero depth behind top tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who are expected to be deployed on the field together much more often this season. Devin Asiasi, Matt Sokol and Jalen Wydermyer all were cut, as was potential receiver/tight end hybrid Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Expect at least one of these players to stick around on the practice squad for insurance purposes.
New England’s receiving corps will feature just four players once Thornton shifts to IR: Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. The Patriots released Humphrey, Tre Nixon and Josh Hammond and placed Kristian Wilkerson on season-ending IR. (Wilkerson can only play this season if he’s released with an injury settlement.)
Bill Belichick could look to buttress one or both of these position groups before the season begins.
4. Stocked at safety
On Monday, Belichick said safety is the Patriots’ strongest position group. It sure looks it. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger all are back from last season, veteran newcomer Jabrill Peppers now is healthy after missing most of training camp as he recovered from ACL surgery and second-year pro Joshuah Bledsoe, who was one of the big winners of cutdown day, convincing Belichick he deserved a spot in this deep, versatile unit.
Bledsoe impressed teammates and coaches as he worked his way back from the broken wrist that wiped out his rookie season. The 2021 sixth-round pick should have a role on special teams even if the depth above him limits his defensive opportunities.
5. A good sign for Ty Montgomery?
Though the severity of Montgomery’s ankle injury has yet to be reported, the Patriots’ decision to cut both J.J. Taylor and Kevin Harris suggests it shouldn’t be a long-term issue. If Montgomery was expected to miss significant time, the Patriots likely would want more depth at the position than Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and rookie Pierre Strong, who didn’t look ready for a significant role this summer.
A clearer picture will emerge Wednesday when we see whether the Patriots keep Montgomery on the 53 or move him to short-term IR, which would sideline him for at least the first four games.
6. More O-line depth incoming?
Hines currently is the Patriots’ only reserve interior offensive lineman behind starters Cole Strange, David Andrews and Mike Onwenu, and he has limited snapping experience. (He was LSU’s backup center, but all 17 of his collegiate starts came at left or right guard.) The Patriots could re-sign James Ferentz — a vested veteran who won’t need to clear waivers — after Thornton’s IR move to fill this void, or look for outside reinforcements here. Kody Russey, an experienced UDFA who played well this summer, also is a candidate to stick around if he clears waivers.
The Patriots are deeper at tackle, with Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste backing up the oft-injured Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn. Director of player personnel Matt Groh on Monday said he feels “very fortunate and very confident” in that group.
7. Wade over Mitchell
The Patriots opted for upside over experience when filling their final cornerback spot, choosing second-year pro Shaun Wade over journeyman Terrance Mitchell. Wade was a ball hawk during training camp –especially during Carolina Panthers week — and can play multiple positions in the secondary. Though their expected starters are veterans Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones, the rest of the Patriots’ rostered corners entered the NFL in 2020 (Myles Bryant), 2021 (Wade) or 2022 (Marcus Jones and Jack Jones).
8. Another Division-II success story
The Patriots have rostered several D-II products in recent years, from Gunner Olszewski (Bemidji State) to Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne) to Matthew Judon (Grand Valley State). You can now add Roberts to that list. The sixth-round rookie out of Northwest Missouri State grabbed a roster spot after a promising summer that included a dominant performance in New England’s preseason opener. He’s long, explosive and versatile, able to play multiple positions along the D-line. Roberts also grew up an avid Patriots fan, which had to make this moment even more special for him.