The New England Patriots are getting started with today’s crackdown to 53 men with the deadline looming this evening, and this casualty is not a surprising one. According to a league source close to Pro Football Talk, the New England Patriots have cut fourth-year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham in a move that most people expected.
Cunningham’s cut means that the Patriots are almost certainly set with five defensive ends in starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to go along with backups Jeff Francis, Michael Buchanan, and Jake Bequette. It looked like Buchanan and Bequette were fighting for one roster spot going into the final preseason game, but the Patriots decided to take both over Marcus Benard, who was a relatively surprising cut yesterday. I thought Benard had earned a roster spot above Jeff Bequette, who had an inconsistent preseason. But Bequette is also younger and a better scheme fit, as Benard projects better as a 3-4 OLB.
So Buchanan and Bequette are now essentially locked into roster spots, with Buchanan looking like a pure lock (I would also say the same for Justin Francis, but you never know these days). Jermaine Cunningham was an obvious cut for the Patriots to make, because he’s had three years in this league to shine and he never has. I actually liked what Cunningham showed as a rookie, because he was an efficient pass rusher as a 3-4 OLB. But he was poor in his second season and had a subpar 2012 season. Cunningham also could not stay healthy this preseason, and the writing was on the wall for him due to a lack of productivity and his cap number.
I believe Cunningham can still find some success in this league, and he can be a jack-of-all-trades 3-4 OLB if he fulfills his upside. Cunningham is clearly best off in that scheme, but I will say that I am glad the New England Patriots kept him on the roster last season. I was in his corner last offseason, because I believed that Cunningham deserved a third season (I usually don’t give up on players until after three seasons) after a promising rookie year. I thought there was a chance he could bounce back from his second season, and while I was technically wrong (he stunk last season, plain and simple), I’m glad the Patriots gave him another year to look at him.
Right now, my projected roster on the defensive line looks like this: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, and Joe Vellano.