Now that the New England Patriots have played all four of their preseason games, the next significant step in preparation for the regular season is to cut the roster down to the league-mandated 53 man limit. The league requires NFL teams to trim their rosters to 53 by 6pm on Saturday. Bill Belichick and his staff will be working hard between now and then to analyze the full body of work from the offseason and preseason to make the best personnel decisions for the team and organization. At the risk of being entirely wrong (that’s the fun of it, right?), here are a few predictions as the clock ticks closer to the Saturday deadline.
1. More high draft picks will be looking for work elsewhere
The Patriots have already released 2011 second-round pick Ras-I-Dowling. His release comes after two injury-riddled seasons and a preseason in which he simply could not stay on the field. New England will likely be adding two more players they had previously used high draft picks to obtain to the list of former Patriots on Saturday by releasing Jermaine Cunningham and Jake Bequette. This is even more likely given the strong play of rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan in last night’s game.
Cunningham, who was drafted in the second round in 2010, has shown flashes in the past, but has also battled injuries and, when healthy, has just been too inconsistent. When they drafted him, the Patriots were hoping Cunningham would emerge as a defensive playmaker off the edge but his inconsistency is ultimately why he’ll be looking for another job come Saturday night. Cunningham will likely get a chance with another team, so it will be interesting to see what comes of the former Florida Gator.
Jake Bequette was an impact player in his time at the University of Arkansas where he collected 23.5 sacks and was first team ALL-SEC as a senior. That production led the Patriots to take him in the third round in 2012. The Patriots were hoping that Bequette would develop into a player who could harass opposing quarterbacks and take some pressure off the secondary. But he has looked like a different player against NFL offensive lines, displaying little to none of the promise he showed at Arkansas while with the Patriots. He just hasn’t done enough throughout his short career and this preseason to warrant a roster spot. Unlike Cunningham, Bequette has practice squad eligibility so he could end up staying in the Patriots organization.
2. Leon Washington will make the team
Return specialist Leon Washington saw a lot of action in the Patriots final preseason game, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for a veteran player with a resume like his. Interestingly, Washington was not returning kickoffs against the Giants, his specialty, but punts. He had a nice 43 yard return in which he benefited from great blocking by the Patriots special teams unit, but was otherwise pretty quiet. The fact that Washington played so extensively in the final preseason game certainly leads one to believe that he is indeed on the roster bubble (as has been widely speculated lately). I still think, however, that Washington will be the Patriots primary kickoff returner when the season begins. You just have to give someone with his track record a chance to succeed and that’s why he’ll still be a New England Patriot at the deadline on Saturday night.
3. Tim Tebow has worn a Patriots uniform for the last time
You have failed me for the last time. Sorry, Tim. It’s the end of the road. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tim Tebow will not be a Patriot come Saturday night. Despite two nice touchdown passes in the final preseason game, the rest of Tebow’s work was more of the same. Combine that with the fact that the Patriots have no need for a third quarterback, with All-Pro Tom Brady and a capable backup in Ryan Mallett, and Tebow is on the outside looking in. Even if the Patriots were considering keeping a third quarterback, Tebow has not been consistent enough to win the job. The fact that the Patriots worked out two quarterbacks on Thursday is also not a good sign for Tebow. If the Patriots are out looking for a practice squad quarterback, Tebow will certainly be looking for a new home on Sunday.