The New England Patriots cleaned up the roster yesterday by releasing three players in wide receivers Perez Ashford and Lavelle Hawkins, as well as interior offensive lineman Nick McDonald. Hawkins and Ashford were odd men out at the wide receiver position, so their releases came as no surprise. Rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins have all played well at training camp, and Thompkins’s incredible performances have clearly separated him from the other three receivers prominently fighting for his roster spot (Kamar Aiken, Michael Jenkins, and Hawkins). Ashford had an even tougher track to the roster, and he didn’t seem to be impressing. He and Quentin Sims were the little-known UDFAs signed by the Patriots following the release of Donald Jones, and Sims is probably going to be the next one on the free agent waters.
But it is the release of Nick McDonald that stands out to me, and I’m not exactly a fan of the Patriots decision to cut ties with him. McDonald is the most versatile offensive lineman on the team, and this is a team with several over versatile offensive linemen in Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon. The 26-year-old can play every position on the line, but he is mostly a guard and was a solid backup for the Pats last season.
When I look at the Patriots depth chart at guard, I see a position that isn’t deep. The release of McDonald means that Cannon is going to be playing at guard next season, because they wouldn’t release a guy who played in 12 games last year and was the direct backup to either guard spot without a good Plan B in place. That justifies the McDonald release a little bit, but the Patriots have to feel comfortable with his younger brother Chris McDonald, fellow undrafted free agent Josh Kline, or veteran Tyronne Green in order to have made this move.
McDonald had a nice role with the Patriots last season, and releasing him leaves the Pats in a precarious position in terms of depth at guard if Green, Kline, or the younger McDonald flop. In the grand scheme of things, releasing a backup guard isn’t a big deal, and the Patriots did a good service to Nick McDonald by releasing him now and allowing him to latch onto another team soon. But after a quality first season from him in New England and, in my opinion, worse players behind him, this release doesn’t sit well to me. Maybe I like McDonald too much or something, but his versatility, experience, and play last season were all assets.
This release makes me think that Cannon is set to beat out Dan Connolly for the starting job, and then Connolly will assume McDonald’s role as the versatile G/C utility backup. If Cannon can make the jump (which I believe he will) and be a good starting guard in this league, then there’s really nothing to worry about.