Gaffney, Stallworth among cuts
FOXBOROUGH — After signing Jabar Gaffney in May with the hope that the 10-year veteran could rediscover the chemistry he had with quarterback Tom Brady during his first stint in New England, the Patriots cut the 31-year-old receiver as they trimmed their roster to the required 75 players Monday.
The Patriots also released receiver Donte’ Stallworth, defensive back Ross Ventrone, and defensive linemen Gerard Warren and Tim Bulman.
Defensive back Will Allen and safety Josh Barrett were placed on injured reserve, along with fullback Spencer Larsen, and tight end Jake Ballard and defensive lineman Myron Pryor were placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Rookie free agent offensive lineman Markus Zusevics was put on the non-football injury list.
The team must be down to 53 players by Friday night.
Gaffney, who signed a two-year contract after a five-touchdown season with the Redskins last year, initially got most of his reps with the first team, although they were limited. After injuring his right quad in practice Aug. 16, he never saw the field again, setting him back in the race for a roster spot.
Competition at wide receiver was tough from the start of camp, with 10 players fighting for essentially six spots. Stallworth was also in his second stint with the Patriots, but he and Gaffney were both nudged out by veteran Deion Branch.
Kerry Taylor, a 23-year-old wideout who spent a week on the Patriots’ practice squad last season, was claimed off waivers from the Vikings.
“You never know what ‘moving on’ means,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said about the moves. “This is a business where things change, so you want to keep good relationships and you never know what can happen. And also, it’s a business where you have a very limited budget, you have to be disciplined how you do things, and people’s skills fade, or how they fit into your system is different.
“We might claim someone today who fits our system and has experience. So a lot of it is a lot of variables. It’s hard for fans — if I was a straight fan, I wouldn’t understand it. But you know, in the end, it’s all about putting us in the best position to win, week in and week out.”
After missing last week’s exhibition game against the Buccaneers, receiver Wes Welker returned to practice, calling what kept him on the sideline a “personal issue” but saying he expected to be on the field for the regular season opener Sept. 9 against the Titans.
“I feel good,” Welker said. “Just focusing on getting ready for the regular season and you want to get in there and help the team. A lot of it was personal issues, and I’ll leave it at that, and let coach [Bill] Belichick take care of anything else.
“I look forward to being out there with the team and I’m looking forward to 2012.”
Just a couple of lockers away from Aaron Hernandez’s, Welker said he was happy to hear the 22-year-old tight end had signed a five-year, $37.5 million extension. Welker is playing on a $9.5 million franchise tender after he and the team couldn’t reach a long-term deal in the offseason.
“It’s good for him,” Welker said. “I’m definitely happy for him. He’s a great player, he’s done a lot of great things for us, and I’m happy to have him here.”
In his weekly contractually obligated appearance on WEEI, Brady addressed the pressure he faced in last week’s loss to the Buccaneers, when he was sacked twice and hit four times.
“Offensive football, 11 guys need to be on the same page,” Brady said. “When the offensive line is expecting me to get the ball out quick and I hold onto the ball and I get sacked, people may blame the offensive line, but really it’s the quarterback’s fault.
“Sometimes there’s coverage sacks, where the defensive coverage, there’s just not a place to find to throw the ball and the offensive line is expecting a certain rhythm of a play and it doesn’t come out that way.
“It could be a number of things, and our offensive line, they’ve worked their tail off. They’re out there giving everything they’ve got, and from a quarterback’s standpoint, we’ve got plenty of time to throw the ball and find the right guy. We need to get it out, get it to the open receiver, and let our guys do something with it.”
In the middle of the practice, Kraft pulled punter Zoltan Mesko aside to tell him he would be honored with the Ron Burton Community Service Award at the team’s kickoff gala Monday night, recognizing Mesko’s work visiting Boys and Girls clubs, hospitals, veterans homes, and home makeover events.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Mesko said. “I just feel like the stage we’re put on, we have the social responsibility as athletes to give back.”
He became the 10th player to win the award, joining a list that includes defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo.
“It’s special,” Wilfork said. “It speaks so much about the person who we are, not as a football player.”
Opinions about the work of the replacement officials have been mixed, and when the topic was brought up to Kraft, who is chairman of the league’s broadcast committee and was deeply involved in finding a resolution to last year’s lockout, he deferred to the league.
“I’m going to let the league office deal with that,” he said. “I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to know that you don’t make judgments until you know all the facts and all the sides, so I’m going to respectfully stay out of that issue.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.