New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) calls for the snap from center Jake Andrews (67) during the second half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

One of the NFL’s most significant deadlines has come and gone. NFL teams had until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday to trim their rosters from the 90-player offseason limit to 53 players for the start of the 2023 regular season.

That left each team – Patriots included – with what is referred to as the ‘initial’ 53-man roster. Keep in mind, very few teams end up playing any actual games with their ‘initial’ 53-man roster. The roster will keep evolving in the week and a half between now and Week 1 with things like IR placements, waiver claims, and practice squad signings.


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Further complicating the nature of the ‘initial’ 53-man roster are the NFL’s new practice squad elevation rules. Teams often don’t carry positional minimums out of the gate to open up other roster spots elsewhere, knowing they can fill those spots later without bringing in a player off the street. In that sense, ‘initial’ rosters may take two to three weeks to fully shake out in reality.

That all being said, it’s not like there’s nothing that can be taken away from the initial rosters. Even if players are cut and brought back, it shows the team wasn’t afraid of possibly using them. Likewise, players not being exposed can be a sign the team is higher on them than others. Plus, it’s possible to project ahead to what kind of work needs to be done between the initial cuts and taking the field on Week 1.

So, what can we learn from the Patriots’ initial cutdown from 90 to 53 players? Here are seven takeaways, starting with a big-picture concept that served as the umbrella take of the day.

  • The 2022 draft

    Aug 25, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) hands the ball to running back Pierre Strong Jr. (35) during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 25, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) hands the ball to running back Pierre Strong Jr. (35) during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

    During the roster cut period, the Patriots parted ways with five of their 10 draft picks from last year – all on offense. That group included running back Pierre Strong (traded) as well as quarterback Bailey Zappe, running back Kevin Harris, and offensive linemen Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber. Yes, all five of the 10 were on offense, with the only first-round pick guard Cole Strange and second-round pick wide receiver Tyquan Thornton remaining (although Thornton is a candidate to go on IR to star the season).

    This immediate bailing on such a recent draft class definitely drew notice (to put it lightly) from fans. A big theme this offseason seems to have been hitting the reset button on most of what was done offensively last year. Now, it looks like that also may include the draft. We dug further into this topic here.

  • Don’t freak out about having just one QB

    Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) walk onto the field before a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) walk onto the field before a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Bailey Zappe’s release, along with the release of Malik Cunningham, leaves the Patriots with just one quarterback on their entire roster Mac Jones. That left some fans openly confused.

    While it certainly an odd look, this setup shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a simple manipulation of the league’s roster rules – and one the Patriots have used before. Prior to the 2021 season the Patriots released both Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer, leaving Jones as the lone QB. Hoyer was quickly re-signed to the practice squad. From there, he was a gameday practice squad elevation twice, before being re-signed to the active roster once again and resuming his backup quarterback duties from there. It was basically a loophole to get the Patriots an ‘extra’ 53-man roster spot to start the season.

    Granted, this situation does have one key difference. Unlike Hoyer, who was a vested veteran and could be outright released and re-signed, Zappe does have to clear waivers. If he does, the Patriots can bring him back on the practice squad and do the same thing they did with Hoyer two years ago (and they did with Nick Folk in 2020, when they kept no kickers on the initial roster).

    If Zappe gets claimed, look for the Patriots to sign another quarterback to the practice squad and use the same mechanic to start the season. Either way, the Patriots will have a backup quarterback for Week 1, and should have two quarterbacks on the roster again by mid-September.

  • IR candidates

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Tyquan Thornton #11 of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

    Tyquan Thornton of the New England Patriots reacts during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

    The way the NFL roster rules work, players are only eligible to return from IR if they’ve made the ‘initial’ 53-man roster. Any player placed on IR prior to that deadline is ineligible to play that season. Now that the deadline has passed, which players on the Patriots’ roster are the strongest candidates to be IR’ed to open up another roster spot, and who are the leading candidates to be brought back?

    As mentioned above, Tyquan Thornton is a logical fit for an IR spot. He hasn’t practiced in three weeks due to a shoulder injury, which could signify something significant. Because the Patriots kept both rookies in Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte at wide receiver, they have plenty of depth at the position. If Thornton needs more time to heal and get back in shape, they can afford to have him unavailable.

    Another player that would make sense is offensive lineman Riley Reiff. Reiff suffered a knee injury in the Patriots’ preseason finale, and hasn’t practiced since. As of Tuesday morning, Bill Belichick said the team was still “going to have to wait and see” when it comes to Reiff’s status, which doesn’t seem like a good sign. Given they rostered 11 offensive linemen (more on that in a bit), Reiff’s presence on the roster may not be necessary – as much as the team needs all the offensive line help it can get.

    Who will get the spots that open up? Mark Daniels of MassLive has already reported linebacker/special teamer Calvin Munson is expected to be in line for at least one IR spot. If a second spot opens up look to positions where the Patriots are carrying less depth than usual, like quarterback or running back.

    Speaking of running backs…

  • Lack of running backs

    New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – AUGUST 19: Anthony Johnson Jr. #36 of the Green Bay Packers tackles J.J. Taylor #42 of the New England Patriots in the second half during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 19, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

    Lack of running back depth has been a story for the Patriots throughout the summer. It showed up on cut-down day, as the team only kept two players at the position in Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott. That makes it the first time they’ve kept fewer than four running backs in at least the last 10 years. Given that, it’s not unrealistic to think more help could be on the way. But who, and from where?

    Factoring in the skill sets of Stevenson and Elliott, it would make sense if the Patriots want to add a faster, shiftier back, especially a player with a more passing-down prototype. That could be two of their Tuesday releases in J.J. Taylor or Ty Montgomery.

    Taylor had a strong close to camp, and seemed to be making a push for a roster spot. If the Patriots do want him back it seems like they’ll need to put him on the 53 rather than on the practice squad an elevate him, with Karen Guregian of MassLive reporting on Tuesday that Taylor “isn’t an automatic for the practice squad,” with his eyes set on somewhere he can “get a fresh start.” As for Montgomery, he certainly fits the description but the Patriots may want someone more reliable (Montgomery has missed significant time the last few years due to injury). If the Patriots believed Montgomery was the answer, they likely would have kept him on the roster outright.

    That takes us to external candidates. There aren’t that many exciting names available, but one player who could be worth a look is Kenyan Drake. The 29-year-old is two seasons removed from going over 1,000 all-purpose yards, and was cut by the Colts earlier this week.

  • Hand forced on the offensive line

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Sidy Sow (61) lines up against the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Sidy Sow (61) lines up against the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Since the practice squad elevation rules were put into place, the Patriots have generally carried eight or nine offensive linemen on their initial roster. That fact certainly made the 11 total they’re carrying this year stand out. It’s a notable number, but not a surprise. Simply put, the Patriots had too many offensive linemen that were roster locks.

    The four concrete starters – Trent BrownDavid AndrewsCole Strange, and Mike Onwenu. Were all clearly making the team. So was Calvin Anderson after he was activated off NFI, meaning he’d now take up a roster spot. Given both the money he was given in the offseason and his role this summer, Riley Reiff was an initial lock as well. Then there are the three rookies – Jake AndrewsSidy Sow, and Atonio Mafi – who the team simply drafted too high (invested too much in) to cut before their rookie year despite some of their struggles this summer. Add in the two trade acquisitions – Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Vederian Lowe – and that brings the total to 11 players.

    As a result the Patriots also ended up cutting some offensive linemen who showed flashes this summer. Namely 2022 sixth-round pick Chasen Hines, who was one of their best backup guards. He should be a candidate to return on the practice squad. Had the Patriots spread out their draft picks more and/or been more aggressive in acquiring high-end talent at the position rather than stockpiling project players, they may have had more roster flexibility in the end.

  • On the nose

    Aug 19, 2023; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (92) tackles Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) during their preseason football game at Lambeau Field. Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2023; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (92) tackles Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) during their preseason football game at Lambeau Field. Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

    We didn’t see much of the Patriots’ starting defense this summer, but one thing that stood out from the brief snaps they did play was a lack of success defending the run between the tackles. While the Patriots were a good run-defending team last year and brought just about everybody back, it was notable to see them have issues in that area.

    That made it all the more surprising when the Patriots cut Carl Davis, the only true nose tackle on the team besides Davon Godchaux. Given the importance of that role in the Patriots’ defensive system, it seems notable they have no depth – with NFL experience or otherwise – currently on the roster.

    If the Patriots are going to go after other teams’ cuts, it would make sense for them to be looking for a nose tackle among other positions. It’s no secret they want to add another nose tackle – they tried to do so last week when they claimed Marquan McCall on waivers, only to have him fail his physical.

    In looking to fill that role now, one player it would make sense for the Patriots to call would be Danny Shelton. Shelton, who turned 30 last week, played for the Patriots in 2018 and 2019 and had success on their nose tackle role. The 6-foot-2, 345-pound Shelton has since played for the Lions and Giants, before spending most of last year on the Chiefs’ practice squad. He was released during Tuesday’s roster cuts.

  • Shaun Wade makes the team

    NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - AUGUST 25: Shaun Wade #26 of the New England Patriots reacts after giving up a first down to the Tennessee Titans during the preseason game at Nissan Stadium on August 25, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – AUGUST 25: Shaun Wade #26 of the New England Patriots reacts after giving up a first down to the Tennessee Titans during the preseason game at Nissan Stadium on August 25, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    There’s a lot of talk about ‘surprise cuts’ this time of year, but how about surprise inclusions? For the Patriots, this year’s surprise non-cut was cornerback Shaun Wade, who quietly put together a solid summer.

    Wade was first acquired by the Patriots as a rookie in 2021. At the end of training camp, the Ravens traded him to the Patriots after having selected him with a fifth-round pick just a few months before.

    Prior to being drafted, Wade was a standout recruit coming out of Trinity Christian Academy in Florida, where he won a number of accolades including USA Today High School Football Player of the Year in 2016. A five-star recruit, Wade lived up to that billing his first two years as a slot cornerback at Ohio State. However, he moved to boundary corner his final year in college in 2020 and struggled.

    Those issues seemed to carry over for Wade in the NFL, and the last two years looked like an adjustment period as he rarely made it on the field. This summer the Patriots started working him more in the slot, and his play improved.

    Initially, it looked like the Patriots needed another boundary cornerback due to the uncertainty surrounding both Jonathan Jones (undisclosed injury) and Jack Jones (due to his gun charge) at the start of the season rather than an additional slot option. With Wade being the final cornerback on the roster, this could be a sign the team once again plans to use traditional slot corners Jonathan Jones and Marcus Jones more on the boundary.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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