Cutdown day is underway for the Patriots.
A league source confirmed on Friday that the Patriots parted ways with veteran receiver Deion Branch and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. The team also cut veteran center Dan Koppen, safety James Ihedigbo, and defensive back Derrick Martin.
Branch, a favorite of quarterback Tom Brady, has had two turns of service in New England. Now 32, he caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Hoyer is a fourth-year player who has never started a game, but was viewed as a capable backup to Tom Brady. His departure could mean the Patriots have confidence in second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett, who started the final preseason game.
Koppen, a Pro Bowler in 2007, has spent his entire nine-year career in New England. He played in just one game last year, however, because of a broken bone suffered in Week 1. He had only missed one game in the previous five seasons.
Ihedigbo came to New England last year after spending three with the Jets. He appeared in all 16 games and started 12.
All four cuts come as a bit of a surprise, especially Branch and Hoyer. Once the Patriots released Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth earlier this week, it seemed as though Branch was safe. The receiver can’t do as much as he once could, but he still still effective in short space.
The Patriots could still bring Branch back after Week 1, when his contract would no longer be guaranteed (the contracts of vested veterans who are on the roster in Week 1 are fully guaranteed), though Branch’s base salary this season was set to be $925,000, which is the minimum for a player with 10 or more accrued seasons.
Koppen’s release was not as much a surprise; it’s likely the staff believes Ryan Wendell out-performed him in preseason.
Ihedigbo is likely a victim of numbers; rookie Tavon Wilson has shown thus far to be smart and versatile, while fellow rookie Nate Ebner has shown promise as well.
By cutting Branch and Koppen, there are just two players on the roster who have won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots: Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork. Nick McDonald also has one from his rookie season with the Packers in 2010.
Derrick Martin is a vested veteran, so he immediately becomes a free agent. Aaron Lavarias, also cut, still has practice squad eligibility. Both were long-shots to make the roster.
We will update this post as more cuts become known.
The deadline for the Patriots to cut down to the 53-man limit is 9 p.m. Friday.