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Cornerback Bodden released by Patriots

Cornerback Leigh Bodden had five interceptions in his first season with the Patriots, but had fallen out of favor. Cornerback Leigh Bodden had five interceptions in his first season with the Patriots, but had fallen out of favor. (2009 file/Elsa/Getty Images)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 29, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots, who have made more than their share of surprising roster moves under Bill Belichick, made yet another yesterday, releasing cornerback Leigh Bodden.

The 30-year-old, nine-year veteran, who came to New England as a free agent in 2009, had played in five of six games this season, recording 17 tackles and four pass breakups.

The news that Bodden had been released broke moments before Belichick stepped to the podium for his final news conference before tomorrow’s game in Pittsburgh, but he was not talking about the cornerback, saying at the time there were no transactions to announce.

Belichick was asked a couple of minutes later to evaluate Bodden’s play. “I think we’ll skip that one right now,’’ he answered.

Bodden’s agent, Alvin Keels, said in a statement, “He enjoyed this time in New England, but after meeting with Coach Belichick this morning, both parties agreed it was time to move on. Leigh still has a strong desire to play football and welcomes his next opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl. Leigh is totally healthy and can contribute right away.’’

It is believed that Belichick was less than pleased that Bodden did not embrace his new role as a nickel corner. A league source said Bodden also did not see eye to eye with defensive backs coach Josh Boyer.

The news was met with surprise in the Patriots’ locker room, where Bodden was well liked. Several players quickly said “no comment’’ when Bodden’s name was brought up.

Bodden signed a one-year contract with the Patriots after playing for the winless Lions in ’08. He began his career in Cleveland, flourishing after former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s arrival as head coach in 2005.

Bodden had five interceptions and 17 pass breakups in his first season in New England, after which he was heavily courted by the Texans. But the Patriots stepped up to keep him, signing him to a four-year, $22 million contract with about $10 million guaranteed.

After missing the 2010 season with a torn rotator cuff suffered in the third exhibition game, Bodden arrived at training camp this year healthy, and presumably ready to start opposite Devin McCourty at right cornerback.

But during camp, Bodden started getting some work in the slot as the nickel back. He had predominantly played outside in his career, but Bodden said at the time he was learning how to play the “smaller, shiftier, quicker’’ guys who typically line up in the slot. In the regular-season opener, it was rookie Ras-I Dowling - who missed much of his first camp with a hamstring injury - who started opposite McCourty.

The timing of Bodden’s release was curious given that it came just two days before the Patriots face a Steelers team with several talented receivers, and with Dowling dealing with another injury, this one to his hip, that has kept him out of the last four games and likely will lead to him being unavailable tomorrow.

Antwaun Molden, picked up off waivers from the Texans near the end of the preseason, will likely see increased playing time against Pittsburgh.

Since the trade deadline has passed, Bodden was placed on waivers. Any team that puts in a claim would have to pay the remainder of his $3.9 million salary for this season, about $2.06 million. If Bodden clears waivers, he is free to sign with any team, and New England is on the hook for the remainder of his salary this year.

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

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