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Patriots release Sanders

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / August 30, 2011

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James Sanders was often credited with being the communicator and old soul among his fellow Patriots safeties.

In a group lean on depth and varied in experience, Sanders seemed to fit in as a veteran leader, but yesterday the Patriots cut the seventh-year safety in a move coach Bill Belichick called a “tough’’ decision.

Ten other players were cut yesterday, including cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, tight end Garrett Mills, long snapper Matt Katula, defensive lineman Kade Weston, receivers Tyree Barnes and Darnell Jenkins, defensive back Malcolm Williams, defensive end Clay Nurse, offensive lineman Mark Wetterer, and kicker Chris Koepplin.

The Patriots must make one more roster move to meet the league’s 80-player limit by 4 p.m. today.

“Tough release there with James Sanders,’’ Belichick said. “James has been a good guy to have on this team. A hard-working kid. He really has developed from the time he came to us as a draft choice from Fresno [State] and he’s been a really solid team player for us but we just, part of the move, needed to release people. But he was a tough one.’’

The Patriots drafted Sanders in the fourth round in 2005. Over six seasons, he totaled 301 tackles and eight interceptions in 84 regular-season games (50 starts).

Last season, Sanders started nine games and played in 15, his highest total since 2007. Sanders fell behind when training camp started because of a hamstring injury. He returned to practice but then was hurt again. Sanders made his preseason debut Saturday against the Lions in a 34-10 loss.

Sanders was slated to make $2.8 million this season, so salary may have been factored into the Patriots’ decision. Belichick didn’t give one specific reason for cutting Sanders.

“We just did what we felt was best for the football team at this time,’’ he said. “That’s the best way I can answer it. Not a lot of negatives with James, but we have to select the players that we feel like are best for our team.’’

The Patriots’ remaining safeties are Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo, Josh Barrett, and Ross Ventrone. Ihedigbo was signed Aug. 19 after three seasons with the Jets. Barrett continues to rehab an injury and has not played this preseason. Ventrone was re-signed yesterday.

With teams making cuts the next few days, the Patriots may bring in a player or two. Nearly two weeks ago, director of player personnel Nick Caserio described the safety situation as “improving and getting better.’’

“Collectively that’s a group - it’s not perfect, but I think they’re all moving in the right direction,’’ Caserio said.

Sanders is scheduled to visit the Falcons this week, according to ESPN.

Patriots linebacker and defensive captain Jerod Mayo said he is among those with great respect for Sanders, but he knows getting released is part of the game.

“James is a great player,’’ Mayo said. “It’s not really my job to evaluate guys and how they do on the field. Coach Belichick made the decision, and did what he thought was the best decision for the team, but I have all the respect in the world for James.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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