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Patriots cuts as they get to 53 (updating)

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  August 31, 2012 06:50 PM

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As of right now, we know of four players who have been told of their release by the Patriots, and there are reports of two others also being cut.

We have confirmed Deion Branch, Dan Koppen, Brian Hoyer and James Ihedigbo have been released.

UPDATE (3:43 p.m.) - Confirmed that the Patriots have released DB Derrick Martin, signed Aug. 4.

UPDATE (4:45 p.m.) - Greg Bedard reports the Patriots have released S Sergio Brown. Brown confirmed the move a few minutes later on his Twitter page.

UPDATE (6:31 p.m.) - T Darrion Weems has been waived, reports Greg Bedard. Also, there are multiple reports that FB Eric Kettani has been waived. Both have practice squad eligibility.

UPDATE (6:40 p.m.) - TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who has not practiced for several weeks, is expected to remain on the roster, as is injured C/G Nick McDonald.

UPDATE (6:50 p.m.) - T Derek Dennis has apparently announced his release himself, posting this on Twitter: "Thank you to the organization and fans of New England it's been fun!!"

Branch and Hoyer are the two most startling moves, in my opinion. Once the Patriots released Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth earlier this week, it seemed as though the 32-year old was safe. Branch can't do as much as he once could, but he still still effective in short space.

The Pats could still bring Branch back after Week 1, when his contract would no longer be guaranteed (the contracts of vested veterans who are on the roster in Week 1 are fully guaranteed), though Branch's base salary this season was set to be $925,000, which is the minimum for a player with 10 or more accrued seasons.

Greg Bedard's analysis on Branch: This was a surprise only after the Patriots released Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth. After that, you figured it would be worth it to keep Branch around just for leadership and experience, and the fact that he's still a reliable target in this system. Even then, I had him as a game-day inactive. Outside of New England, Branch has next to no value. He's fine in a 10-yard box, but is limited outside of that. That's why he didn't get any action on the free agent market. Right now the Patriots only have three legitimate receivers who can play right away: Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Expect them to looking for a trade or on waivers for another receiver, preferably one that knows the Josh McDaniels' system from Denver or St. Louis. It's not a huge need because the Patriots are probably going to play with two WRs most of the time with Lloyd, Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski and a RB. Or one WR, three TEs and a RB. Also, Shalise Manza Young is hearing the Patriots are on the lookout for FBs. McDaniels wants one.
Cutting Hoyer could be a gamble. While he didn't have a great showing in the preseason games, he still seems like a more reliable option should something happen to Brady. But it appears that second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett will be Brady's backup; Mallett also was not that impressive in the preseason, but as colleague Greg Bedard noted after the Giants' game Wednesday night, neither did Brady in the 2001 preseason.
Bedard on Hoyer: This was a mild shock (releasing Hoyer was something I talked out loud about last year -- look out next year, Shane Vereen, because it looks like I'm a year early on speculation), just because with a team so close to the Super Bowl, wouldn't you want to have your bases covered in case Brady has to miss time? Make no mistake, Ryan Mallett did not outplay Hoyer in the preseason (a guy who knows more about QBs than I do agrees). They were close, but Hoyer played with much worse talent around him. This was purely about Hoyer making $1.9 million and the Patriots feeling that Mallett had improved to the point where the team feels they he can be Hoyer's equal or better in the next 2-3 months. Don't really have a problem with it; teams make these kinds of decisions all the time. But there are a few things puzzling. Why did the Patriots put a second-round tender on Hoyer in the offseason? Why not put right of first refusal and save the money (or get rid of him then, maybe by working out a trade)? How hard did they try on the trade market, especially considering they did not showcase him at all in the preseason. If you want to get something, let him work with the starters? And why not keep Hoyer around for one more season and receive draft-pick compensation when he signed elsewhere? That would maximize the value you have received after signing him as an undrafted free agent. People are going to make a big deal about being vulnerable behind Brady but, really, are they going very far without him? Expect the Patriots to add a QB to the practice squad.

Koppen's release was not as much a surprise; it's likely the staff believes Ryan Wendell out-performed him in preseason.

Bedard on Koppen: The writing was on the wall as Koppen's best days look to be behind him. You can argue that Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald outplayed Koppen, though I'm not buying it on McDonald. What's fairly disturbing is that the Patriots waited until the 53-man cutdown to release Koppen. It didn't look like he was going to be on the team, why not do the right thing and release him early? And I've been told that it's not a situation where Koppen either plays here or nowhere. He wants to keep playing, and doesn't want to go out like this.
Ihedigbo is likely a victim of numbers; rookie Tavon Wilson has shown thus far to be smart and versatile, while fellow rookie Nate Ebner has shown promise as well.
Bedard on Ihedigbo: Thought the Patriots might keep him around for special teams and depth, but I was surprised they even re-signed him in the first place. He's hurt all the time and limited in space. He could be back if injuries strike. Even if he latches on somewhere else, he might not stay long and could be back if injuries strike.
By cutting Branch and Koppen, there are just two players on the roster who have won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots: Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork. Nick McDonald also has one from his rookie season with the Packers in 2010.

Additionally, WEEI.com reports that DB Derrick Martin and MassLive.com reports that DE Aaron Lavarias have both been released. Martin is a vested veteran, so he immediately becomes a free agent; Lavarias still has practice squad eligibility. Both were long-shots to make the roster.

We will update this post as more cuts become known.

As it stands, the Patriots are at 69 players. We'll be posting the rest as we get them.

Safety Sergio Brown was released to bring the roster to 68 players. Expect a flurry of about a half dozen now, and then the rest very late.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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