Major 2012 Contributors on the Roster Bubble in 2013

Zoltan Mesko’s roster spot is far from guaranteed in 2013. (Photo: US Presswire)

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.

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29 Responses to “Major 2012 Contributors on the Roster Bubble in 2013”

  1. MaineMan says:

    #5, Mesko being on this list is blatant “stirring the pot”. B values consistency on special teams and Mesko has been very consistent in doing his job – which is mainly trying to pin opponents insode their own 20 from relatively short range. It’s the guys who are always booming from inside their own teams’ 30 (because their offenses suck) who get the high YPP. When Mesko gets a rare opportunity to boom one, he does so.

    #1, Connolly – $3.33M isn’t very much for an experienced, reliable and solid RG who has also demonstrated that he can play Center very well. I seriously doubt that he’s going away this year and it certainly wouldn’t be about the money.

    #2, Gregory, missed a lot more assignments and tackles than even rookie Tavon Wilson did and wasn’t nearly as good on ST as even Ebner ended up being. Gregory also hits the 2013 cap for nearly $2.2M, which may be a bit much for a #3-#4 safety who’s not a “special” special-teamer.

    #4, Fells’ blocking was barely adequate and he must’ve had much less success figuring out how to run routes in the Pats’ system than Hoomanawanui since he ran far fewer per snap played. That said, Ballard hasn’t really proven that he can do anything in the Pats offense yet, “potential” aside. Until he does, Fells probably sticks around as insurance.

    #3, Cunningham, may be a tougher call than folks think. He was actually pretty good as a rookie OLB in the old 3-4, setting the edge and defending the run well and getting some decent pressure, even if he didn’t get home for the sack. Apparently, though, he didn’t have the self discipline to keep working hard on improving through the lockout prior to his sophomore season and it cost him. He looked much better in 2012, showing up in shape and giving 110% in a sub-package role as an interior pass-rusher which doesn’t really suit a guy who’s 6’3″/266, but there wasn’t really room for him at DE (and there’s probably even less now).

    So, Gregory is probably most “endangered”, followed closely by Cunningham. Fells could stick for a bit depending on the health of Gronk and Ahern and the development of Ballard, Sudfeld and Ford.

    I don’t see Connolly or Mesko realistically being on the bubble, though.

    • qwerty says:

      calling cunningham a bust is absurd. he did play well.

      he excelled his first year in setting the edge
      the second year, he was overshadowed by veterans patriots brought in
      the third year he played decent.

  2. DaveM says:

    Harmon is by no means a FS, he is terrible in coverage.

    • Stephen S says:

      Yes while watching the Rutgers vs Arkansas video the Rutgers D in general had a couple of good plays but also a few big plays given up almost kind of reminded me of BB’s bend but don’t break

  3. td says:

    With a flat cap and the owners’ current trend of driving down wages will result in some of the bigger hitters saying goodbye:


    In the end, it seems teams able to integrate younger & cheaper players into their teams and win will be the winners and it will take truley superior management to produce annual winning teams, which we have by the way.

    Unless the owners are able to reign in elite or near elite QB salaries, teams will constantly be on wild swings from playoff caliber to rebuild. Baltimore is there now soon to be followed by 49ers, Seahawks and Atlanta when their QB’s will command more dollars.

  4. J H TARBORO says:

    An UDFA wiil be star on this team this year, maybe defense or it could be an offensive player. 2 specific players come to mind on defense Joe Vellano and Cory Grissom and on the offensive side watch out for the TE’s Sudfield and Ford.

    • Ryan says:

      Vellanomis my guy. He reminds me of Mike Wright. Lots of production in the 4-3.

    • Ryan says:

      Vellano is my guy. He reminds me of Mike Wright. Lots of production in the 4-3.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      Love Vellano as a playmaker and fine tackler. But Watch out for T.J. Moe WR this guy is a keeper!!!

      • Stephen S says:

        What do you like about TJ Moe for me it seems like without knowing for sure that he is durable with the ability to be productive as the old commercial used to say it takes a licking and keeps on ticking

    • Stephen S says:

      While looking at Joe Vellano and Corey Grissom this is what I seem to notice Grissom will make more big plays but will give up more big plays as well where as Joe Vellano doesn’t make as many big plays but is a scrapper and makes a lot of tackles to prevent big plays from happening

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    No# 1-4 see you later!

  6. nicojones says:

    i say cut gregory, cunningham, and fells from that list.

  7. Daid L says:

    With two defensive tackles already released I think the cap space saved along with another potential cut or two will pave the way for a veteran defensive end like John Abraham.

    Kyle Love savings = $850K

    Potential cuts and savings:
    Fells would be $900K
    Cunningham $650K
    Mesko $1.3 million

  8. Kyle says:

    I see no reason to cut a any of the guys based on money alone. We already have quite a bit of cap space, and it is not like we are going to use the money saved to bring in somebody new. It would just go unspent.

    • Sean says:

      It wouldn’t be just unspenpt as Teams can carry unspent cap money over to the following year now. Which is why the cap has stayed relatively flat the last two years.

  9. Jinx says:

    I am fine with releasing Gregory. I think an undrafted free agent could do most of what he did last year.

  10. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    I don’t see Connolly cut as he’s played OC very well, as well as OG. It sure looks interesting if Allen punts well in pre-season, Mesko is in the last year of his contract, and Allen would a big cost savings for 4 years.
    Gregory is a sure cut I believe.
    I very much like undrafted SS Kannorris Davis.

    • Stephen S says:

      It seems to me that Kanorris Davis is big strong and athletic(Adrian Wilson like) but very raw. If Adrian Wilson shows him the ropes for a year or two maybe something there.

      • acm says:

        Wilson-like, he is not – Davis is not even 5’10” tall and is just north of 200 pounds. He is a SS and an interesting player indeed but not in the mold of A.Wilson for sure.

        • Stephen S says:

          Thanks acm for the insight but I was just referring to the videos that I saw where both Adrian Wilson and Davis jumped over standing men and where Davis is built like a tank in a video of him squatting so he may not be tall big but muscular big is what I was referring too. When watching on field stuff he showed tuffness but seemed to be out of place

  11. JMC says:

    Hate to lose Connolly but he is expensive. Seems like you could get a draft pick for Mesko-

  12. AM says:

    All good candidates for the axe, although I am skeptical about Connolly because of the need for depth on the line, as you mention. Also, Mesko’s numbers are skewed, I think, by the Patriots’s brilliant offense. I would wager that his average starting position is further down the field than most other teams in the league, meaning he tends to focus on directional, placement, and “hang time” punts instead of the boomers that other teams deal with. Nearly half of his punts were inside the 20, which puts him among the best in the league percentage-wise; he also allowed the third-shortest average return yardage in the league.

    The interesting question for me is Gregory. He is really a FS who was forced to play SS. If he were cheaper, he’d be an ideal third safety or backup for McCourty. If the team is comfortable with Duron Harmon as McCourty’s backup, it might be curtains for Gregory.

    • Ryan says:

      Isn’t Harmon considered SS. All those safeties have me confused. Here is how I see it.

      SS: Tavon, Adrian, Ebner, Harmon
      FS: McCourty, Gregory.

      • AM says:

        It doesn’t help that the Patriots are more flexible with their safeties than the traditional FS/SS dynamic. I’d agree with your list, with Harmon a bit of a wild card–he’s got some size, but he might have the speed to play FS-ish as well. I’m just not sure.

    • Barkevious says:

      You’re exactly right on Mesko. You can’t measure what he does in this offense with simple YPP. Don’t forget, the weather here’s a little tougher to punt in than Louisiana…

    • acm says:

      good points on Mesko. No one on the team should feel safe about their job but If anyone among the ST-ers need competition, that would be Gostkowski, imo.

      • AM says:

        Agreed. I like him as a kicker, but a little bit of pressure might be a good thing in his case.

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