The New England Patriots wasted no time making two major cuts at tight end, as they have released both Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells a day after the final preseason game and a day before 53-man cuts. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted the news of Fells’s release, while it was the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin who reported the release of Jake Ballard from the Patriots.
Neither cut would be surprising if just one of the two was released, but the fact that the Patriots decided to get rid of both players is a surprise. I always thought that it would be a competition between Ballard and Fells for a roster spot, but it looks like both guys lost out. Neither player was a lock to make the roster, and Ballard’s release shouldn’t be a surprise to those who have been watching things closely on his front.
Ballard clearly isn’t the same player after microfracture surgery, which is easily one of the most difficult things to come back from. I hate how people heap praise upon Ballard for being a great blocker, because he, quite frankly, isn’t great. That’s not to say he is a bad blocker, but he’s been merely average in that regard to this point, and it looks like his blocking skills have deteriorated. That game against the Detroit Lions in Week 3 was an absolute disaster for Jake Ballard, who put forth some of the worst blocking at the TE position that I have seen in New England in some time (preseason or regular season). Ballard has lost more than a step, and all it takes is a glance at beat writers’s notes from practices (the adjective “rigid” certainly comes to mind).
Most of Ballard’s value with the New York Giants was derived from being a good pass-catcher, and he hasn’t made much of an impact on that front. Ballard was simply not healthy enough to make the Patriots roster, and he never proved his health during the month of August. It’s tough to see somebody with Ballard’s talent go, but, then again, how talented is he really following the injury? What Ballard needed to do was prove that he could make up for a loss of athleticism and agility (he never had much of those traits to begin with) by showing good and improved blocking, but that was never the case this offseason.
As for Daniel Fells, the main thing working against him was the amount of money he was making, and it seems hard to believe that the New England Patriots handed down significant contracts to No. 3 and 4 tight ends last offseason in Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui. It’s not that they didn’t perform well last season (both were fantastic blockers), but three years and $5.25 million for Daniel Fells is a bit rich, especially for a No. 3 TE.
So while Fells is a consistent player, not an awful pass-catcher, and a dependable blocker, the fact of the matter is that paying him that kind of money is not a recipe for success on the cap management front. It’s surprising to see him go along with Ballard, though, but I also had Fells getting cut instead of Ballard when it came down to an either-or scenario. While Fells had more of a chance at actually contributing to the Patriots offense, Ballard also had more upside (good TE if healthy again).
The fact that both Fells and Jake Ballard were released certainly bodes well for Rob Gronkowski‘s chances of avoiding the PUP, and I would put money on him being on the 53-man roster. But in the couple of weeks prior to Gronkowski’s return to health, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui are plenty good enough to hold up the ship.