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Patriots release safety Steve Gregory

Steve Gregory. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Steve Gregory.

The Patriots released veteran safety Steve Gregory Friday, a move made primarily to create salary cap space.

The 31-year old Gregory signed a three-year deal in 2012, and was slated to count $3.683 million against the cap for 2014. Releasing him means the Patriots gain $2.85 million against the cap. Only the remainder of his $2.5 million prorated signing bonus ($833,333) will remain on the books.

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Undrafted out of Syracuse in 2006, Gregory spent his first six seasons with the Chargers.

With the Patriots, he played in 26 games, including 23 starts. Last year, coaches credited him with a career-high 90 tackles in 14 games. On Thanksgiving 2013, Gregory was the beneficiary of Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez’s infamous butt fumble, scooping up the loose ball and returning it for a touchdown.

Well-respected by coaches and teammates, Gregory’s football IQ was lauded last season, with some players saying they considered Gregory a future head coach.

“When we’re preparing for games, he’s not only able to watch film and see things coming, but he’s able to go to the coaches and say, ‘Why don’t we tweak this defense this way, because it better fits what they do?’,” Devin McCourty said of Gregory in January. “When we’re in meetings, we’ll have something in the defense and we’re watching [film] and Steve will say, ‘Why don’t we do this?’ and we’ll all sit there and look at him and be like, ‘You’re right, that probably would be better.’

“I think that’s what makes him so good.”

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The Patriots have McCourty, Adrian Wilson (who missed all of last season because of an injury), Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, and Kanorris Davis remaining at safety.

Harmon would seem to be in line to be paired with McCourty as the starters. A third-round pick out of Rutgers last year, Harmon played in 15 games, starting against the Panthers, Broncos, and the Bills.

In other news, former center Dan Koppen became the latest ex-Patriot to join the high school coaching ranks. Koppen joined the staff at Bishop Hendricken in Warwick, R.I., as a volunteer assistant coach.

Roland James, Danny Villa, and Mosi Tatupu are among the former Patriots players who joined the high school coaching ranks after their playing days.

A fifth-round draft pick in 2003 out of Boston College, Koppen started all but one of the 121 games he played with New England over nine seasons. He was released out of training camp in 2012, signed with the Broncos and wound up as their starting center that year when the incumbent was injured.

Koppen was hurt last year, and was only an observer as the Broncos went to the Super Bowl. He said toward the end of the season that he would be retiring.

Koppen, 34, is married to Rhode Island native Amber van Eeghen, whose father, Mark, was a running back with the Patriots in 1982-83.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung-@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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