But since New England went into the day with 51 players on its 53-man roster, adding four meant two had to be subtracted, and veteran running back/kickoff returner Leon Washington and cornerback Marquice Cole were released.
The Patriots were awarded linebacker Chris White off waivers from the Lions, defensive tackle A.J. Francis and guard Chris Barker from the Dolphins, and offensive lineman Braxston Cave from the Browns.
Washington and Cole had been signed to one-year free agent contracts in the offseason.
One of the NFL’s best kickoff returners over the last six years, Washington was ostensibly brought aboard to give the Patriots the potential home run hitter they’ve lacked at that spot for several seasons, and possibly get some chances on offense. But he had just three kickoff returns in the preseason, totaling 66 yards, with a long of 27. He did have a 43-yard punt return in the fourth exhibition game against the Giants to help set up a touchdown.
If Washington is not brought back, there is a question of who will handle kickoff return duties. Last season it was Devin McCourty, and though he did have a 104-yard touchdown against the Jets, he wasn’t a consistent threat. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have NFL experience as returners.
Cole seemed like a surer bet to stick, both for his special teams play and spot duty potential at cornerback. It would not be a surprise if he is re-signed at some point.
Drafted by the Bills in the sixth round in 2011, White was a core special teams player for Buffalo last year, after missing part of his rookie season because of a torn ACL. But he was traded to Detroit a little more than a week ago, and then the Lions released him Saturday. Now he’s bound for Foxborough.
The Dolphins reportedly wanted to sign the 6-foot-5-inch, 309-pound Francis to their practice squad after a strong preseason, and he was at the team facility when he found out he’d been claimed by the Patriots. Francis tweeted that he was headed into a special teams meeting when Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland told him the news.
Barker, 6-3 and 305 pounds, played every game for four years at Nevada, switching between left and right guard, sometimes drive to drive.
Cave, also 6-3, 305, started 35 of 48 games at center for Notre Dame. His toughness was noted in pre-draft scouting reports, and though Cave was thought to be a mid-to-late-round pick, he was not selected, signing with the Browns after the draft.
The Patriots also signed six players to their practice squad, all of whom they had released Saturday: defensive lineman Marcus Forston, linebackers Jeff Tarpinian and Ja’Gared Davis, safety Kanorris Davis, defensive back Justin Green, and receiver Quentin Sims.
There are still two open spots on the practice squad.
Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and Chris McDonald, who were waived/injured by the Patriots, went unclaimed and now revert to the team’s injured reserve list, though the sides now have five days to work out injury settlements, if preferred.
Also, none of the players the Patriots released Saturday, including Tim Tebow, Zoltan Mesko, and Jake Ballard, were claimed by other teams, and are now free agents.
Living the dream
Instead of the well-liked veteran Mesko, the Patriots ended up keeping rookie Ryan Allen, an undrafted Louisiana Tech product, as their punter.
“[It’s] a little surreal,” Allen said about winning an NFL roster spot. “It’s a big step in someone’s life. It’s a dream that I’ve always had.”
The competition between Mesko and Allen was very close, so the decision to go with Allen basically came down to money: He is slated to make less than a third of what Mesko’s salary for 2013 was set for. Mesko was also headed into the final year of his rookie deal, whereas Allen is under contract through 2015.
Allen said Mesko gave him tips, and in the end, the help Mesko offered may have cost him his job, making Allen good enough to make the Patriots comfortable with the idea of keeping him.
“Zoltan was a great, great competitor, great guy. I learned a lot from him,” Allen said. “I’m good friends with him and it was great to be under him and Steve [Gostkowski] and Danny [Aiken], and have them show me how things are done in the NFL.”
There is one thing Allen will have to learn in a hurry — how to hold on kicks. Mesko handled all of the holding for Gostkowski during the preseason, and Allen acknowledged he’s never taken a snap and placed a ball in game conditions before.
He said he’s confident he’ll be able to handle those duties in Sunday’s opener.
Svitek sits out
Offensive lineman Will Svitek was the only player who didn’t take part in practice; Svitek had a black sleeve around his right knee and lower right leg in the locker room . . . Rookie linebacker Steve Beauharnais changed his number from 45 to 58. Fellow rookie Joe Vellano, a defensive lineman, is now wearing 72 after sporting 64 in camp . . . Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui confirmed that he had re-worked his contract to stay with the Patriots; his salary had not yet been updated on the Players Association website, but it is believed he lowered his base salary and now has playing-time incentives that can earn him more. Initially, Hoomanawanui’s restricted-free agent tender was to pay him $1.323 million.