The Patriots reduced their roster to 80 Sunday by cutting nine players, including seven of their undrafted free agents — most notably rookie quarterbacks J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke — according to a league source.
As part of the agreement reached between the NFL and NFLPA last week, all teams must get their rosters to 80 players, instead of the normal 90 who are invited to training camp.
Teams can elect to keep 90 and run split-squad practices until Aug. 16 before making the cuts but the Patriots chose to be proactive and now will have their full complement of players on hand for conditioning and walkthroughs.
According to the NFL: “All 80 players may be at the facility, including on the practice field, simultaneously throughout training camp.”
Also released were rookie receivers Isaiah Zuber, Will Hastings, and Sean Riley; rookie defensive tackle Courtney Wallace; rookie linebacker Kyahva Tezino; and safeties Malik Gant and Adarius Pickett.
The Patriots had released veteran cornerback Lenzy Pipkins on Saturday afternoon.
The moves signal the start of what will be a most unusual training camp as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Patriots will have their rookies, quarterbacks, and injured players in for COVID-19 testing beginning Monday. The remaining veterans will start filing in Tuesday to begin their round of testing.
The team will conduct virtual meetings during the week and it’s likely the first on-site work won’t come until Aug. 3. That would include conditioning and in-person meetings.
Teams will work on strength and conditioning through Day 14 of camp. There will then be four days of nonpadded practices. It’s likely the first padded practice will be held Aug. 17.
The undrafted rookies who survived the initial roster cuts include receiver Jeff Thomas; tight end/defensive end Rashod Berry; tight end Jake Burt; running back J.J. Taylor; defensive end Nick Coe; defensive tackle Bill Murray; linebacker De’Jon Harris; and safety Myles Bryant.
At least one undrafted rookie has made New England’s initial 53-man roster in 16 straight seasons.
The cuts take some of the intrigue out of camp, most notably the battles for backup slot receiver spots, an area where Zuber, Hastings, and Riley excelled in college.
Zuber and Riley also could have played a factor in the competition for the return jobs. Hastings, who also has a kicking background, already had a rapport with Jarrett Stidham from their days together at Auburn.
Smith was a high-priority free agent and because of his unique blend of athleticism and arm strength, he was expected to be one of the most closely watched players throughout camp.
Baseball could still be an option for Smith, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 24th round in 2015. He could have easily pitched at Louisiana Tech, but football coach Skip Holtz put the kibosh on that, wanting to protect his quarterback’s arm.
Gant was signed as a rookie free agent from Marshall last season and had a terrific summer. An explosive hitter, he shined during the exhibition season but suffered a leg injury in the preseason finale and wound up on injured reserve. The Patriots are deep at safety with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrence Brooks, and top pick Kyle Dugger ahead of him on the depth chart.