NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
New England received strong contributors across the board in 2012, but nonetheless the organization appears interested in the possibility of replacing some players with high 2012 snap counts; read on to find out who may be looking for work elsewhere in 2013.
1. RG Dan Connolly (1,051 snaps in 2012)
Dan Connolly was an adequate starter for the Patriots in 2012, and his versatility, possessing the ability to play any of the three interior offensive line positions, could make him a difficult cut. However, Connolly has a fairly high cap number for 2013, $3.33 million, and roughly $1.17 million would be saved by releasing him, the fifth-highest figure on the roster. Now that right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has re-signed with the team, the Patriots could simultaneously get younger and save money by converting high-upside lineman Marcus Cannon to right guard, where he may be more effective.
2. SS Steve Gregory (901 snaps in 2012)
Releasing Gregory would save just under $900,000 of his $2.56 million cap figure in 2013, which may be attractive to the organization considering his average play in the defensive backfield. The Patriots drafted Tavon Wilson in the second round last year to groom for a significant defensive role; Wilson ended up playing 500 snaps in 2012 and looked better than anticipated. This offseason, the Patriots signed Adrian Wilson to a three-year contract and additionally bolstered their depth in the defensive backfield by drafting Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round of the 2013 draft, making Gregory’s roster spot far from a sure thing.
3. DL Jermaine Cunningham (487 snaps in 2012)
Former second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham has been a bust in New England through the first three years of his career; his four-game suspension last year for performance-enhancing drugs won’t help his cause. Cunningham’s contract is set to expire at the end of the year, and the Patriots have recently added a great deal of depth at the defensive end spot, making him expendable. Younger players such as Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, and Michael Buchanan may be more deserving of opportunities this season, as any snaps granted to Cunningham may stunt their development in favor of a player who appears unlikely to be on the roster in 2014. Of the aforementioned replacements, Francis, who played some defensive tackle at Rutgers, may be best suited to Cunningham’s role as an interior rusher in sub packages.
4. TE Daniel Fells (338 snaps in 2012)
Daniel Fells was on the field less often than Michael Hoomanawanui in 2013; although Fells proved his blocking acumen over the course of his 338 offensive snaps, he contributed little as a receiver, catching just four passes on the season on nine targets. Releasing him would save over $900,000 of his $1.58 million cap figure, which appears to make even more sense given Jake Ballard’s anticipated return to the field; should Rob Gronkowski miss time at the beginning of the season while recovering from another surgery, New England would remain well-stocked at the position with Aaron Hernandez, Hoomanawanui, and Ballard.
5. P Zoltan Mesko (snap information not available)
Zoltan Mesko is one of the more popular punters in the league; however, his 43.1 yards per punt in 2013 ranked New England’s punting unit 28th in the league; Mesko also posted a disappointing 37.9-yard net average. By signing two-time Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen as an undrafted free agent, the Patriots have indicated that they desire additional competition at the position; moving to Allen would allow New England to save $1.32 million of Mesko’s $1.37 million cap figure. Allen averaged 46.1 and 48.0 yards per punt in 2011 and 2012, respectively, compared to Mesko’s 46.5 and 43.1 yards.