The New England Patriots have their initial roster for the 2021 NFL season, and while they have 53 players on the roster at this moment, the team is likely to make additional moves, whether claiming players off waivers or signing guys in free agency. That’s inevitable because Bill Belichick is sure to stash a few players on injured reserve with the designation to return. (Players placed on IR before the 53-man deadline cannot return. Players placed on IR after the deadline can return after missing three games.)
But this depth chart is what we have to analyze — for now. Let’s take a look at the decisions Belichick and the Patriots made to get down to 53.
PUP: Jarrett Stidham
Cam Newton (Cut on Aug. 31, per the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride) Brian Hoyer (Cut on Aug. 31, per the transaction wire.)
Analysis: It is almost symbolic that the Patriots decided to cut all the way down to one quarterback: Jones. He’s the present and the future. By releasing Newton, the Patriots made that clear. It will be all Jones all the time for the foreseeable future. Hoyer will likely return to the roster at some point in the next day or so. Stidham can return after six weeks.
The release of Newton was surprising.
“Hopefully you build a relationship that will last well beyond football. And I believe that’s the case here,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Wednesday.
The emergence of Jones was predictable.
“I really feel confident about his approach, his ability to process information and really his ability to make a mistake and learn from those,” McDaniels said. “He’s a great listener. … He’s really showed at a young age the ability to put those mistakes behind him.”
Running back (6)
Fullback Jakob Johnson
Sony Michel (Trade on Aug. 25)
Analysis: There weren’t any surprises past the Michel trade, which made sense at the time. New England had an obscene amount of depth and Michel was their best way of recouping value — even if it meant accepting a fourth-round pick for a player selected in the first round.
Analysis: I was probably overthinking it when I wrote Wilkerson could supplant Olszewski after continued issues as a receiver. Ultimately, Gunner is a Pro Bowler. Belichick values that level of excellence.
The one mild surprise is that Harry is still on the team. He could end up on IR-return, and should be back soon after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason. It will be interesting to see whether he can put up production in 2021 and revitalize a career that’s on a downward trajectory.
Tight end (3)
IR: Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli
Matt LaCossse (Cut on Aug. 31, per the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels)
Analysis: No surprises here. I do wonder, however, whether the Patriots might add another option at tight end in the coming days.
Offensive line (10)
Yasir Durant (acquired in a trade on Aug 30)
IR: Marcus Martin
Analysis: The Patriots are looking at a very deep group of linemen, with a whopping 10 players at the position. Durant joined the team at the last minute to help with the interior depth that Martin seemed likely to provide before his injury. Tackles Herron and Cajuste both have plenty of potential.
NFI/IR: Joshuah Bledsoe
Analysis: Bryant made contributions in 2020 on defense and special teams. He seemed to be playing well before the team cut him. That’s what made his cut a surprise. The team will hope to stash him on the practice squad, but he’s one player they may ultimately lose.
Shaun Wade (acquired in a trade on Aug 26)
PUP: Stephon Gilmore (moved to PUP on Tuesday)
Analysis: Williams was the biggest beneficiary of Bryant’s departure. New England apparently deemed his special teams contributions valuable — and his defensive efforts salvageable.
The fact that the Patriots put Gilmore, who once said he should be ready for training camp, on PUP is a surprise. Gilmore could have gone on IR-return, which would get him back sooner. It’s hard to imagine Gilmore’s six-week absence to start the season is wholly injury-related. It seems related to his contract dispute, too.
Kyle Van Noy
PUP: Terez Hall
NFI: Cameron McGrone
IR: Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings
Analysis: It was impressive to see King, a special teams player, and Langi, a depth linebacker and special teams standout, make the roster. They were both a bit of a surprise, but clearly, the Patriots felt they needed to boost their special teams aptitude. Langi can provide depth at inside and outside linebacker. New England looks a little thin at inside linebacker, in particular.
Defensive line (7)
PUP: Byron Cowart
Bill Murray (Cut on Aug 30) Montravious Adams (Cut on Aug. 31, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter) Akeem Spence (Cut on Aug. 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed) Nick Thurman (per the transaction wire) Tashawn Bower (per the transaction wire)
Analysis: Davis beat out Spence. That position battle was fierce, and while Spence started camp at the top, Davis battled his way on the ther final roster. Anderson, who didn’t have a particularly strong offseason, managed to earn a spot.
Nick Folk (Cut on Aug. 31, per ESPN’s Field Yates.)
Analysis: A stunner! The Patriots elected to go with a young and inconsistent kicker in Nordin. Folk hasn’t looked great, but he had been more accurate in camp. It will be interesting to see whether Nordin can keep his nerve throughout the season.