P.K. Sam had a feeling the sandman would come calling, and his hunch proved accurate, as he was among the 17 cuts made by the Patriots yesterday.
The second-year receiver from Florida State, the youngest player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft, said coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli noted his improved maturity from his rookie season when they informed him of the team's decision.
''I learned a lot here, and I don't know if I could sum it up in a couple of sentences," Sam said just after the team announced the move. ''[New England] definitely prepared me to handle everything thrown at me in the NFL. There are some great guys on this team and they've been good to me."
Sam was one of three receivers cut as the Patriots trimmed their roster to the 53-man limit. Several of those released could be part of an eight-man practice squad that should be named today.
Veteran David Terrell, a free agent signee, and undrafted rookie Bam Childress, tied for the team lead in catches in the exhibition season, were the other two wideouts waived as the Patriots retained six receivers: Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight, David Givens, and Bethel Johnson.
The team entertained free agent Peerless Price last week and, according to his agent, made an offer, but Price signed with the Cowboys yesterday.
The Patriots also released offensive linemen Victor Leyva, Jeff Roehl, Billy Yates, and Gene Mruczkowski; linebackers Eric Alexander, Grant Steen, and Andre Torrey; running backs Kyle Eckel and Kory Chapman; tight ends Jed Weaver and Joel Jacobs; defensive linemen Rodney Bailey and Tom Sverchek; and safety Raymond Ventrone.
Among the mild surprises to make the team are linebacker Wesly Mallard, the former sixth-round pick who was a free agent signee with the Patriots last spring, and undrafted free agent Mike Wright, who may have passed Dan Klecko for the backup spot at nose tackle.
Terrell, the No. 8 overall pick by Chicago in 2001, picked up a $200,000 signing bonus when he agreed to a one-year contract in April. But after he was hurt for much of training camp, and had just three receptions for 21 yards in a make-or-break exhibition against the Giants, the Patriots weren't willing to pay him $700,000 for the season.
New England took an even worse hit financially with the release of Bailey, a 2004 restricted free agent pickup from the Steelers. The Patriots gave the defensive lineman $1.45 million last season (and gave up a sixth-round pick to sign him), though he sat out the entire campaign with a torn Achilles' tendon.
Belichick said Friday that bonus money given to a player or a lost draft pick in a trade would mean ''zero" in a roster decision.
''Once the players walk onto the field at the start of training camp, it doesn't matter whether the guy played Division 1 or Division 6, was in 12 Pro Bowls or was a rookie free agent," he said. ''I think a player's performance, to me, is based on what he does in your system on the football field.
''You've got to stand up there in front of the team and say, 'Look, these are the players who are selected to the team based on performance, not based on other things.' [Things] that some of them don't know, and I'm sure most of them don't even care about. They're just looking out there and seeing performance. That's what the coaching staff is looking for, too."
Though he wasn't bitter, Sam said he thinks he is good enough to have made the roster. He was injured for three weeks of camp, but wouldn't point to that as the reason he was let go. Dwight missed the offseason minicamp and the first few days of training camp, and Johnson didn't practice until the final week of the exhibition season.
''I would like to think that, but, at the same time, other receivers were hurt and made the team," Sam said. ''I definitely think I should have made it, but it's not on me. Obviously, they don't feel that way.
''But the NFL is the NFL. I'll just be in another state, another city, probably in a couple of days."
Alexander, Chapman, Eckel, Jacobs, Steen, Torrey, and Ventrone are candidates for the practice squad, though all could elect to sign with another team.
The Patriots, who were off yesterday, return to practice today to begin preparation for the season opener against Oakland at Gillette Stadium Thursday.