The Patriots currently have 84 players on their roster. By Tuesday afternoon, they must cut to at least 75, and by next Saturday they have to get down to the regular-season limit of 53.
The roster established next Saturday likely will not be the same 53 the Patriots use in their regular-season opener on Sept. 8 in Buffalo; there is always shuffling, particularly if a desirable player becomes available.
After three exhibition games, here’s one writer’s prediction on which current Patriots will make the 53-man roster:
QUARTERBACK (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett; Released: Tim Tebow
It’s possible Tebow will stay, if only so Josh McDaniels can continue to try to develop his former first-round pick into a serviceable NFL quarterback. But since Tebow does not have any practice-squad eligibility, the Patriots would have to dedicate a roster spot to someone who projects to have little, if any, impact during the season.
RUNNING BACK (5): Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB), Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington; Released: Ben Bartholomew (FB), LeGarrette Blount, George Winn
Develin is a wild-card pick, and there are some who think Blount will make it over Bolden. One of Blount’s big issues is he struggles in pass protection. Although the Patriots had Blount return kickoffs in Detroit, he’s never been a return man in the NFL, and doesn’t seem to have the speed required. If Blount isn’t a returner, he really doesn’t offer anything on special teams; Bolden does. Washington has been unimpressive this preseason as a returner, but has a proven track record and the Patriots need improvement in kickoff returns. Plus, he can be a change-of-pace back for the offense.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Kenbrell Thompkins; PUP: Mark Harrison; Released: Kamar Aiken, Johnathan Haggerty, Quentin Sims
Once veteran Michael Jenkins was released, it was clear the Patriots were on board with their youth movement at the position. Aiken will likely come back as a practice-squad player, and Harrison will either start the season on the physically unable to perform list or perhaps be placed on injured reserve.
TIGHT END (4): Jake Ballard, Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfeld; Released: Daniel Fells, Evan Landi
If the Patriots keep Gronkowski on PUP to open the season, Fells could stay. The veteran had a strong start to camp, but has missed time recently because of injury and has a salary cap number of nearly $1.6 million (cutting him would save $916,000). Ballard is making progress from his ACL and microfracture surgeries, and Hoomanawanui is versatile. Sudfeld has shown great promise, and Brady has looked to him frequently.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Will Svitek, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Markus Zusevics; Released: Josh Kline, Chris McDonald, Luke Patterson, Brice Schwab, Matt Stankiewitch
This group remains largely intact from last season, though Cannon could replace Connolly at right guard. Svitek, signed for tackle depth, has done an admirable job at guard and upped his chances of sticking. The Patriots typically keep one or two offensive linemen on the practice squad, and Kline, McDonald, Patterson, Schwab, and Stankiewitch all have eligibility.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Marcus Benard, Michael Buchanan, Marcus Forston, Justin Francis, Chandler Jones, Tommy Kelly, Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Vince Wilfork; PUP: Armond Armstead; Released: Jake Bequette, Jermaine Cunningham, Cory Grissom, Anthony Rashad White
Vellano gets the nod over Bequette. The Patriots rarely throw in the towel on third-round picks after just one year, but Bequette has not made an impact this camp, and Vellano, the undrafted rookie from Maryland, started at tackle against the Lions and acquitted himself well. Benard, who was not in the league last season, has played well in camp and can give New England much-needed depth in the pass rush.
LINEBACKER (6): Steve Beauharnais, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes; Released: Niko Koutouvides, Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian
Ninkovich’s flexibility helps; he spends time in both the defensive line and linebacker rooms, and has experience at both. Collins is a work in progress. He’s been moved all over as the team tries to find his niche. Fletcher has drawn positive marks for his recovery from a torn ACL.
DEFENSIVE BACK (10): Kyle Arrington, Marquice Cole, Alfonzo Dennard, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, Aqib Talib, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson; Released: Kanorris Davis, Ras-I Dowling, Nate Ebner, Justin Green, Brandon Jones, LeQuan Lewis
Despite his injury issues, it’s tough cutting Dowling — when he’s healthy, he’s been a starter, so clearly the Patriots like him. But he can’t contribute from the trainer’s room. The safety rotation still needs to be worked out, though McCourty was paired with Gregory in Detroit. Adrian Wilson provides a veteran presence but hasn’t made an impact on the field yet. Tavon Wilson has yet to make the second-year jump.
SPECIALISTS (3): K Stephen Gostkowski, P Zoltan Mesko, LS Danny Aiken; Released: P Ryan Allen, LS Mike Zupancic
This trio remains the same. Though Allen shows promise, Mesko is the better punter at this point. Aiken has yet to have a bad snap; that kind of consistency keeps you on the roster.