The first mandatory cut down date is still more than a week away, but Head Coach Bill Belichick didn't wait until Aug. 22 to drop the axe on several players. The most notable among the eight players released was eight-year veteran wide receiver Vincent Brisby.
Brisby has been walking a tightrope in New England since 1995, his last productive season with the team. Since then he suffered several nagging injuries that have limited him to just 48 catches in the last four seasons. Belichick was able to let him go after he signed veteran Chris Calloway, who was released by Atlanta earlier this summer.
Joining Brisby on the unemployment list are cornerback Mike Woods, safeties Rodney Rideau and Cory Gilliard, wide receivers Aaron Bailey, Matt Bumgardner and Tony Gaiter and tight end Dave Stachelski, the team's 2000 fifth-round draft pick.
Brisby's release came as a surprise because Belichick said earlier in camp that the starting wideout job alongside Terry Glenn was his to lose, and the veteran looked good at times in practice while also starting two preseason games. He had his contract restructured in the offseason, making most feel that he would be safe for another year.
But in an effort to bolster their receiving corps, the Patriots acquired Calloway, obviously feeling he could be a cheaper alternative to Brisby, whose cap number was around $1.4 million for 2000.
Calloway, a 10-year veteran, was with Atlanta last year after seven productive seasons with the Giants. He has 381 catches for 5,402 yards (14.2 yards per catch) and 30 touchdowns in his career, including highs of 62 receptions (1998), 849 yards (1997) and eight touchdowns (1997).
The Patriots receiving ranks have been thin since the free agent departure of Shawn Jefferson in the offseason. Ironically, Jefferson signed with Atlanta, which made Calloway somewhat expendable for the Falcons. The 5-10, 182-pounder out of Michigan is more of a possession receiver than Jefferson is, but his numbers are slightly better.
During a five-year span from 1994-98, Calloway averaged 54 catches for 772 yards per season for the Giants. In the last five seasons (four with the Patriots), Jefferson averaged 45 catches for 740 yards.
Calloway signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Falcons before the 1999 season and finished with just 22 caches for 314 yards in 11 games. After a fast start in '99, he was replaced in the starting lineup by Tim Dwight midway through the season and then was inactive for the final three games with a groin injury.
Head Coach Bill Belichick hopes he can recapture his form and join Glenn, Troy Brown and Tony Simmons to form a formidable receiving group. The Patriots brought in Bailey for the same reason during the offseason, but the six-year veteran injured his shoulder early in camp and never really got untracked. Also, he was seen more as a return specialist and with Brown, running backs Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond, there weren't many opportunities in that department, either.
With Brisby's release, the Patriots saved about $750,000 against this year's salary cap. Belichick may not be done tweaking the roster. In fact, two former Patriot defensive linemen remain unemployed and could be options to return for cheap money. Ferric Collons, who played the last five seasons with New England, and Mike Jones, who was with Tennessee last year after spending a season in St. Louis and four in New England, could be candidates to join the line rotation.