The New England Patriots have built a reputation of being a franchise that is unafraid to hasten the inevitable.  This past weekend, they once again failed to delay until tomorrow that which they could do today. 

With the start of 2020 Training Camp fast approaching, the Patriots have reduced their roster to 80 players, in accordance with last week’s agreement reached between the NFL and NFLPA. 

As reported by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe, the Patriots released nine players on Sunday, including seven of their 15 2020 undrafted free agents.  The most prominent among them were quarterbacks J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke; receivers Isaiah Zuber, Will Hastings, and Sean Riley; defensive tackle Courtney Wallace; linebacker Kyahva Tezino; and safeties Malik Gant and Adarius Pickett. The Patriots had released veteran cornerback Lenzy Pipkins on Saturday afternoon.

NFL Teams may elect to keep 90 players (the customary number of roster invitees to open training camp) and run split-squad practices for three weeks. Prior to the Aug. 16 deadline, each team will be required to make at least 10 roster cuts. Having chosen to be proactive, New England will now will have their full complement of players on hand for conditioning and walkthroughs.  As indicated in McBride’s report, the NFL has stipulated: “All 80 players may be at the facility, including on the practice field, simultaneously throughout training camp.”

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End of an Undrafted Free Agent Era?

The Patriots had fielded one of the most intriguing troupe of undrafted rookie free agents in the NFL heading into the 2020 season. Several of the released players were expected to compete for positions on the final roster. most notably at wide receiver and quarterback.  

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Zuber and Riley saw great collegiate success in the slot. They were also expected to compete for a spot in the return game on special teams. Hastings had been projected as a potential dark horse in the receiving corps, due to his synergy with Jarrett Stidham from their days together at Auburn.

At quarterback, Smith was particularly intriguing.  The Louisiana Tech product brings a unique blend of athleticism and arm strength, and was expected to be one of the most closely watched players throughout camp. 

Gant’s early release was a bit eye opening, seeing that he had experience in the Patriots’ defensive system. He was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent from Marshall in 2019, and performed well during preseason. Unfortunately, Gant suffered a leg injury in the preseason finale and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve. This, along with the Patriots depth at safety, likely played a role in the decision to part ways with the second-year safety.  

The Streak Continues?

Among the undrafted rookies who survived the initial roster cuts are receiver Jeff Thomas; tight end/defensive end Rashod Berry; tight end Jake Burt; running back J.J. Taylor; defensive end Nick Coe; defensive tackle Bill Murray; linebacker De’Jon Harris; and safety Myles Bryant. Thomas, in particular, has generated some excitement as a potential fit at receiver. The Miami speedster has been impressive in his offseason virtual workouts, per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. 

At least one undrafted rookie has made New England’s initial 53-man roster in 16 straight seasons. The probability of the continuation of that streak may end up being one of the most intriguing storylines of Camp Foxboro in 2020.  

 

-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC

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