5 thoughts on Patriots’ decision to cut Will Smith, Tommy Kelly, James Anderson
|08.24.14 at 9:31 pm ET|
1. Kelly was a bit of a surprise — he’s a terrific locker room guy, and the team had plenty invested in him, as he went on season-ending injured reserve early in 2013, but still managed to rehab diligently and return for camp this summer. In addition, he re-worked his deal in the offseason with an eye toward staying in Foxboro. One thing certainly worth considering is the fact that he will remain on Bill Belichick‘s speed-dial — if the Patriots feel like Jerel Worthy or any of the younger defensive linemen struggle, Kelly could be recalled at a moment’s notice, provided he doesn’t find a home anywhere else around the league. (One template for Kelly could be the overall career arc of Gerard Warren — while the cases aren’t exactly similar, Warren was released by the Patriots on Sept. 7, 2011, but re-signed by New England three weeks later and ended up playing 12 games for the Patriots that season.)
2. It’s easy to take this as a referendum on the younger players along New England’s defensive line. While it appears to be a sign that the Patriots have a strong belief in their younger linemen like Worthy and Joe Vellano (as well as Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga, both of whom are currently working on rehab following injury), there should be a small level of caution, in particular as it relates to Dominique Easley. From this viewpoint, it would be dangerous to look at the moves on Sunday — particularly the release of Kelly — as a sign that Easley is ready to play significant snaps on a regular basis. The first-round pick out of Florida flashed some impressive moves in the first week in pads, but hasn’t seen any game action to this point in the summer. At this stage of his development it would be a mistake to throw him into the deep end of the pool in Week 1 against the Dolphins and have him swim.
3. Smith was occasionally underwhelming in his relatively brief tenure with the Patriots. There were times where he showed the sort of impressive pass rush moves that allowed him to come away with 67.5 sacks over the course of his 10-year career. But at the same time, Smith (as well as the rest of New England’s backup defensive ends) failed to get a consistent push on the quarterback when they saw game action over the course of the preseason. The 33-year-old, who is trying to come back from spending all of 2013 on the shelf because of a torn ACL, is a well-respected player around the league who should get another shot if he desires. Going forward, this will likely create more opportunities for young defensive ends like Zach Moore, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan.
4. The release of Anderson was a bit of a surprise — on Sunday’s scale, it ranked below Kelly but ahead of Smith. The veteran, who was acquired as a free agent over the course of the spring as the Patriots tried to bolster their depth at linebacker, did well in coverage in his relatively brief time in New England. One thing that could have factored into the decision to part ways with Anderson was a desire to go with a younger linebacker who had more special teams value. That could likely open the door for someone like Darius Fleming, Steve Beauharnais (who had a nice pick in Friday’s win over the Panthers), James Morris or Ja’Gared Davis to land a spot on the final 53, as they have shown the occasional ability to do both. For what it’s worth, I’d be shocked if Anderson doesn’t find a job somewhere — he’s a great locker-room presence, considered something of a mentor, and is still able to work in coverage. (He led the Bears in tackles last season.)
5. Ultimately, the fact that the three veterans were released this early in the process means a few things, but one of the takeaways is the fact that all three now have a better chance to land somewhere else now than if they were released closer to the final cuts. The Patriots now have nine more cuts to make between now and the Tuesday deadline (4 p.m.) to get down to 75 players. Following that, the finals cuts — to 53 — must take place before Saturday afternoon.
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