Putting aside the 2003 draft right now to digest these recent roster moves by the New England Patriots (another draft revisit and grading of 2003 will be posted this weekend), some additional perspective is needed with these head scratching moves.
First, the release of defensive tackles Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love are obviously not salary cap related, as both were playing on what is basically their rookie minimum contracts. The release of Deaderick–where the Patriots were apparently aware that Love was not going to play this season if they had their way–seems to indicate there are some kind of issues there. Deaderick got the majority of playing time over the last six games, while Love was the regular for the first half of the season. Now both are gone. Not traded before the draft for a late round pick: released, with nothing back in return.
There were two new defensive linemen brought in this off-season–Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead–and both are unknown products to an extent, as neither have played a snap for this defense, and neither are big, offensive-linemen occupying bodies like Deaderick and Love were in the past. Add in that the Patriots parted ways with Myron Pryor prior to the draft and 2nd-round wash-out (and Boston College product) Ron Brace at the end of last season, and all-pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork will need a program to know who is lining up next to him at training camp.
The release of defensive tackle Kyle Love as Non-Football Injury/Illness clause release due to his diagnosis with Type 2 diabetes is puzzling to say the least. From a personal perspective (as I switch to first-person–which I am loathe to do when writing and can feel the wrath of my journalism professor bearing down on me from 20 years ago), I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes almost exactly three years ago, and in my case, I was quickly able to get my diabetes under control. Once I did my health has improved markedly since the diagnosis. In that time I have shed over 60 pounds and gone from a 40 inch waist to a 32 inch waist. When I would be winded after climbing the four flights of stairs to my 9-5 job three years ago, now I pound out 20 to 30 minutes of high-step each morning just to reach my target heart rate and begin to break a sweat. My HBA1C, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc have swung from health hazard to healthy athlete level (disclaimer: I do take insulin daily and am on low-dose cholesterol and blood-pressure medications as a precaution). This is why the release puzzles me: if anything, the fact he has been diagnosed should lead to improved health, strength, stamina and play from Love. Why release him now? Is it a retaliatory move for something? Was he withholding the information from the team? I do not understand where the Patriots front office is coming from with this move.
As for defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick, the timing of the move is puzzling and leads to speculation about off-field issues. Deaderick and Love split snaps next to Wilfork and both were major contributors. At worst, the two were expected to battle in training camp for a depth spot behind Kelly and Armstead. Is this a sign that the Patriots are comfortable with Marcus Forston as their depth defensive lineman? Behind Fortson are only long-shots/practice-squad potential defensive linemen such as Joe Vellano, Cory Grisson, and Dewayne Cherrington. Right now, the only other defensive tackle to play a snap on defense in 2012 with the Patriots is Fortson, with 8 snaps total in game three versus Baltimore.
Perhaps it is a change in philosophy. If the defensive line is going to get active (they were in the nickel/sub defense package almost 60% of the time last year) and go after the quarterback, then it makes sense to get rid of them as Love and Deaderick are not fits as they are space eaters. It leaves the depth a bit thin, but the team was high on undrafted defensive tackle Marcus Fortson last season in training camp, and coach Bill Belichick, defensive coach Pepper Johnson, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may believe he is ready to take a huge step forward. Having Fortson, Kelly, and Armstead with Wilfork inside gives the team a pass rushing presence in the interior defensive line that has been non-existent since Ted Washington filled the nose tackle position in 2003.
What is also possible is the team is looking to move back to a 3-4 alignment with Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defense. Kelly has experience as a nose tackle and an end in the 3-4, in addition to playing inside in a 4-3. Kelly and Wilfork on the nose, and Chandler Jones as a 3-4 defensive end with Armond Armstead, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and Marcus Fortson at depth would be a possible alignment. That would flex defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich to linebacker in the 3-4 with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes inside, and a combination of Dont’a Hightower, Ninkovich, and rookie Jamie Collins outside. That alignment would play to their strength at linebacker, but seems to lessen the versatility of Vince Wilfork by having him occupying multiple blockers. Also, defensive end Chandler Jones playing a 3-4 at end moves him off the edge and has him playing with strength rather than speed (especially in rushing defense) which seems to not maximize his skills.
Unfortunately, the fans are left to wonder about these moves, as coach Bill Belichick is not about to share his thoughts and explain his motivation for these moves on the defensive line, releasing both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. Considering how both players were snapped up on waivers shows that there was value there for both of them, as even a future late round pick has more value than getting nothing at all. In this case, the Patriots appear to have missed an opportunity to maximize their value and stockpile a few late round draft picks. As always, the Patriots consistency in the off-season is their unpredictable nature. Once again, the 2013 off-season is proving to be full of surprises and intrigue in Foxboro, MA.