Five thoughts on the first wave of cuts the Patriots made on Friday afternoon
|08.30.13 at 4:00 pm ET|
1. As we wrote in our final preseason edition of “What We Learned,” the decision to cut ties with Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard wasn’t a big surprise, given the fact that they were on the field late into Thursday’s contest against the Giants. If you look at the totality of Ballard’s work since he stepped on the field this spring, it was clear that he was still hampered by the knee problem he sustained in Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the Giants. He had his moments, but they were few and far between. Look for him to sign elsewhere, and soon.
2. As for Fells, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him on the Deion Branch Plan — that is to say he could be that veteran who is cut shortly before the start of the regular season, only to return a week or two into the regular season in an attempt to give the Patriots some financial flexibility (his money for the 2013 season isn’t guaranteed) and some roster flexibility as well. When it comes to Fells, it wasn’t so much that he struggled over the course of the summer, but in some cases, when all things are equal when it comes to the on-field product, the team is almost always more inclined to go with the cheaper alternative. In the end, I’m not saying Fells wouldn’t have potential suitors, but his age, value and financial situation certainly make him a candidate to be a part of the shadow roster.
3. You can’t talk about the release of Fells and Ballard without mentioning what it all means for Rob Gronkowski. For what it’s worth, I still believe that Gronkowski will take roughly a half-season to round back into his old form — as I wrote here the other day, it’s not so much the injury at this point, but the rehab and recovery process, as well as the fact that he still needs to get back to his playing weight. There’s also the possibility that the Patriots make some sort of deal for another tight end between now and the start of the season. (They’ve made a few trades at this time of the year.) Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even though New England has released Fells and Ballard, it’s still a position that’s in a state of flux at this point in the summer, and can change before the start of the regular season.
4. Defensive lineman Marcus Benard was a guy who flashed very positively through the initial stages of training camp, and played well in the first preseason game against the Eagles. And while the Patriots shuffled him a bit along their defensive front — he played his natural position as a pass-rushing defensive end, but also gave him a shot as an interior pass rushing presence — he ultimately didn’t show the consistency needed to survive in the NFL. His release likely bodes well for some of the other backup defensive end types on the roster, including Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan, the latter of whom played very well in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Giants.
5. Of the guys who were cut loose on Friday, the one most likely to land on the Patriots practice squad is Matt Stankiewitch, an interior offensive lineman out of Penn State. He’s one of a handful of guys in that situation who have practice squad eligibility, and depending on what New England decides to do with Marcus Cannon, the Patriots could be looking for more depth at guard and center going into the regular season. His time with former Patriots offensive coordinator Billy O’Brien at Penn State proably doesn’t hurt either.