What to make of the Patriots’ cuts and final decisions with their 53-man roster


The Patriots are awfully thin at quarterback, running back, and tight end following Tuesday’s roster cuts.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) reacts after a touchdown during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis.
Mac Jones is currently the lone QB on New England’s roster. AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

After a busy couple of days that saw New England announce nearly 40 roster cuts, the Patriots’ 53-man roster for the 2023 season is finally set.

Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ full squad:

Quarterbacks (1): Mac Jones

Running backs (2): Ezekiel Elliot, Rhamondre Stevenson

Wide receivers (6): DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte

Tight ends (2): Mike Gesicki, Hunter Henry

Offensive line (11): Calvin Anderson, David Andrews, Jake Andrews, Trent Brown, Vederian Lowe, Atonio Mafi, Mike Onwenu, Riley Reiff, Sidy Sow, Cole Strange, Tyrone Wheatley Jr.

Defensive line (7): Christian Barmore, Daniel Ekuale, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Sam Roberts, Deatrich Wise, Keion White

Linebackers (7): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings, Matthew Judon, Marte Mapu, Jahlani Tavai, Josh Uche, Mack Wilson

Cornerbacks (6): Myles Bryant, Christian Gonzalez, Jack Jones, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Shaun Wade

Safeties (4): Kyle Dugger, Jalen Mills, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips 

Special teams (7): Bryce Baringer, Chris Board, Joe Cardona, Chad Ryland, Brenden Schooler, Ameer Speed, Matthew Slater

In addition, both DB Cody Davis and DL Trey Flowers have been placed on the Reserve/PUP list, while both CB Isaiah Bolden and OL Conor McDermott were placed on injured reserve, ending their respective seasons.

As is the case every year when coaches have to shear down their rosters, there were a few surprises found in New England’s decisions as to who stays and who goes on their depth chart — especially when it comes to the quarterback position. 

Here are a few thoughts on the Patriots’ 53-man squad and the rationale behind some of the team’s roster tweaks.

Expect more dominos to fall in the coming days 

While there are many knee-jerk reactions doled out during the NFL’s cut-down day, it’s always important to remember that managing a 53-man roster is a very fluid situation.

Even though New England cut close to 40 players over the last few days, it is still awaiting word on waiver claims as it tries to assemble its 16-man practice squad.

And by that same token, it’s all but guaranteed that Bill Belichick and his staff will peruse the pool of players across the league who are also now hitting the waiver wire for additional reinforcements.

Expect more roster tweaks in the days ahead, especially in areas where the Patriots are very thin (QB, RB, TE).

The search is on for a backup QB

Of course, the stunner of the day involves New England’s QB position, with Mac Jones currently the last man standing on the depth chart.

As intriguing a prospect as Malik Cunningham is, his raw play at wide receiver likely hindered his chances of making it on the 53-man unit. Cunningham could come in handy on the practice squad as a scout-team QB, although his athleticism could make him a player teams roll the dice on as a waiver pickup.

Cunningham was always viewed as a long shot to make the starting roster, especially as some of the momentum from his impressive debut against Houston started to quiet down.

But the real shocker came when New England also opted to release Bailey Zappe, who went from promising in-season starter in 2022 to roster cast-off this summer.

There’s no denying that Zappe has labored this season in Bill O’Brien’s revamped offense, but the 2022 fourth-round pick still offered some insurance behind Jones at such a crucial spot.

New England could also try to sneak Zappe onto the practice squad alongside Cunningham and elevate either to the active roster if need be, although Zappe could also be another young signal caller that a team opts to take a chance on.

Jones was the far better quarterback all summer, separating himself from Zappe and eliminating all talk of a QB competition in short order.

Still, given the patchwork offensive line in front of their QB1, the Patriots need to have backup options in place at such a critical position.

New England could scour the market for an established, veteran backup at QB, such as former Cardinals signal caller Colt McCoy.

Thin at other skill positions…

The QB position is far from the only segment of the roster where Belichick and his staff opted for quality over quantity.

As currently constituted, New England only has two running backs on the roster in Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott, along with two tight ends in Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

Granted, it’s to be expected that both position groups are going to be dominated by those four. Henry and Gesicki should complement each other out on the field, especially in two-TE sets, while Elliott’s short-yardage talents, pass blocking and receiving skillset should help lessen Stevenson’s workload.

Still, injuries are a given in the NFL, especially at those two punishing positions. Henry and Gesicki are already banged up, with Gesicki still looking to be cleared for Week 1 after suffering a mild dislocated shoulder earlier this month.

The lack of depth behind them perhaps signals that both tight ends will be good to go for the regular season, but don’t be surprised if New England looks to add another tight end to the mix in the coming days.

If another player lands on injured reserve, Ty Montgomery could be a player who works his way back on New England’s roster as a third option at running back.

The Patriots’ incorporated the pass-catching back heavily into their offensive playbook during the spring, but the veteran lost plenty of time after suffering a lower-body injury early into camp. His durability is an issue, but Montgomery adds yet another wrinkle that Bill O’Brien should be able to utilize if he stays on the field.

…except at wide receiver 

It sure feels like a long time ago that Patriots fans were lamenting Belichick’s inability to add a WR1 like DeAndre Hopkins to the roster in free agency.

It remains to be seen if New England still has a proven take-over wideout on their roster. But Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien have plenty of options to turn to when it comes to avenues for their aerial attack this fall.

For the first time since 2019, the Patriots will carry six receivers on their roster, with the surprising play of rookies Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte forcing Belichick’s hand (in a good way) when it comes to retaining surplus talent at the position.

A bounce-back season for Kendrick Bourne could be in the cards, while both DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster have been as advertised as both a contested-catch weapon and a YAC asset while operating out of the slot. 

The 5-foot-8 Douglas has been one of the top players all camp as a fleet-footed sparkplug who has tortured defensive backs, while Boutte shook off a slow start and flashed some of the potential that made him a five-star recruit out of LSU.

One potential question mark involves second-year pro Tyquan Thornton, who had an underwhelming camp and is currently on the mend from a shoulder injury. He could be a candidate for an IR designation.

Offensive line help on the way?

It’s been a bleak summer for New England’s offensive line.

In three preseason games against Houston, Green Bay, and Tennessee, New England coughed up 11 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and fumbled the ball four times.

Injuries further hindered an already weak spot on New England’s roster, with seven of the team’s 17 offensive linemen either banged up or the mend in Mike Onwenu, Cole Strange, Calvin Anderson, Conor McDermott, Kody Russey, Atonio Mafi and Riley Reiff following last Friday’s preseason finale in Nashville.

But help seems to be on the way for the Patriots’ O-line, with New England loading up at the position as of late.

With Conor McDermott on season-ending IR and rookie Sidy Sow struggling at the tackle position, New England gave itself some options by trading for both Vederian Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. 

The return of Calvin Anderson stands as a major lift for the Patriots, with the veteran tackle missing all of training camp and the entire preseason slate due to a non-football illness.

Anderson offers the highest upside of available linemen when it comes to shoring up the vacancy at right tackle, although time isn’t exactly on his side when it comes to getting ready for Week 1.

Still, New England’s O-line is in better shape than it was just a few days ago.

Any surprises on defense?

Other than Carl Davis’ release on Saturday, there weren’t necessarily a whole lot of bombshells to be found as far as roster cuts on New England’s defense.

But good on second-year defensive lineman Sam Roberts for shaking off a so-so game against the Packers on Aug. 19 and securing a roster spot with a dominant showing against the Titans (run stuff, two tackles for loss, 1.0 sack) last Friday.

Not only should an improving Roberts add some thump against the run, but his high motor could come in handy during pass-rushing situations.

Other strong performances in Nashville from LB Calvin Munson (10 tackles, one interception) and LB Ronnie Perkins (QB hit, four hurries) unfortunately weren’t enough for either player to earn an initial spot on the 53-man roster, although a role could be carved out following an IR designation. Worst case, both players should be utilized on the practice squad.

Youth wins out on special teams

The Patriots’ special-teams unit is still led by the team’s elder statesman in 37-year-old Matthew Slater.

But two of the most featured roles on that grouping will be anchored by a pair of rookies in kicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer.

Baringer winning the punting battle over veteran Corliss Waitman wasn’t much of a surprise. The 2023 sixth-round pick overcame some practice mishaps by absolutely booting the ball during preseason play. During his 11 preseason punts, Baringer averaged 51.1 yards, including a 69-yard bomb against the Titans on Friday.

Given that New England traded up to add Ryland in the fourth round of the 2023 Draft, it makes sense that the Patriots prioritized the 23-year-old kicker out of Maryland.

But it was a close competition between him and veteran incumbent Nick Folk before New England ultimately dealt the latter to the Titans on Tuesday afternoon. Even though Ryland has a higher upside thanks to his leg strength, Folk was more consistent over the summer, especially on kicks within 40 yards.

But with New England already dealing with a roster crunch at various other spots across the depth chart, carrying two kickers into the regular season was never going to be a realistic option.