Defensive back Artrell Hawkins, who helped stabilize the Patriots’ safety position when injuries struck over the last two years, has been released, the team announced.
The Patriots also announced the expected signing of quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The veteran quarterback had previously told Sporting News Radio he had an agreement to join the Patriots after double session practices concluded.
The 31-year-old Hawkins had been out of practice since Aug. 8 due to an undisclosed injury.
Hawkins appeared in 19 regular-season games and five playoff games for the Patriots over the last two seasons. His contributions ultimately came to be expected, although that wasn’t the case when he first arrived in New England as a free-agent Nov. 16, 2005.
At that time, the Patriots were seeking reinforcements in the secondary when a string of injuries struck. Hawkins had been primarily a cornerback through his first seven seasons in the league, but the Patriots -- per the suggestion of then-linebackers coach Dean Pees –- moved him to safety.
The fit was a natural one as the heady Hawkins, who at 5-10, 195 pounds doesn’t have prototype safety size, didn't shy away from physical play. He also contributed in the kicking game, tying for the team lead with 15 special teams tackles in 2006.
Still, the 31-year-old Hawkins figured to be in a battle for a roster spot this training camp. The Patriots had been running Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison as their starting safeties. With Hawkins injured, the second unit has been comprised of Rashad Baker and James Sanders. Mel Mitchell and Willie Andrews are also on the depth chart. Potentially, first-round draft choice Brandon Meriweather could play safety as well.
Hawkins was in the final year of a two-year contract. He was scheduled to earn $720,000.
The team also confirmed the release of defensive back Gemara Williams and linebacker Kyle Bissinger.