Aug 29, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch (84) prior to the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

New England Patriots release Deion Branch

Wait, what just happened? Yeah, the New England Patriots have released the third veteran receiver who was supposed to be the team’s No. 3 wideout in veteran Deion Branch. While he does lack speed at this age, he was reliable during the preseason, has a good rapport with Tom Brady, doesn’t make mistakes out there, has solid hands, and he is a good route-runner.

It’s a shock to me, considering the the Patriots released Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth, as those releases made it look like Branch would be “The Guy” at No. 3 for the season. That’s apparently not going to be the case, so somebody else is going to be the seldom-used No.5 option in the Patriots passing attack. Heck, Shane Vereen might get more targets than the No. 3 receiver.

It’s interesting, because projecting the next No. 3 receiver for the team is going to be even more difficult. Jesse Holley, Jeremy Ebert, and the recently claimed Kerry Taylor. Julian Edelman will likely have a bigger role as the backup slot receiver to Wes Welker. Taylor is an interesting player and was once on the Patriots practice squad in the past, and all three of the above outside receivers have some upside. I’m not big on Holley, to be honest, and I view him as the odd man out. He’s just too inconsistent at this point.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what happens after this surprising cut, but it’s kind of weird for the Patriots to role with those young guys as the outside receivers. I mean, who is going to be the No.3 wideout? Probably Edelman, but the backups on the outside don’t look too good. I guess this means the full diminishment of the No.3 receiver role for the Pats.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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