By 4 p.m. Eastern today, every NFL team must trim its active roster from 90 to 53. Many, including the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots, have already gotten a head start.
New England returned to the practice field Saturday afternoon for a full-pads session, and player attendance was noticeably thinner than it was Thursday night for the preseason finale here at Gillette Stadium. Over the past day-and-a-half since preseason concluded, the Patriots have reportedly begun the process of finalizing their 2017 roster. Several of the players not on the field today are among those who've already been released, according to media reports.
Among those taking part in practice was second-year QB Jacoby Brissett, but around 2 p.m., when practice would have been drawing to a close, news broke that Brissett – who turned in a superb performance Thursday against the New York Giants – was headed for Indianapolis in a trade for a speedy Colts receiver.
Dorsett has some kickoff and punt return experience, which suddenly became a need for New England when Cyrus Jones went down with a severe right knee injury against the Giants. It's possible the Jones injury contributed to this move, which has been announced by the Patriots.
In the interim, three practice absentees were expected, as they are all said to be out of the season with knee injuries: wide receiver Julian Edelman, rookie defensive end Derek Rivers, and the aforementioned Jones.
Others not sighted Saturday: wide receivers Devin Lucien and Tony Washington, rookie running back LeShun Daniels, fullback Glenn Gronkowski, rookie tight end Sam Cotton, rookie offensive linemen Tony Garcia, Jason King, and Max Rich, rookie defensive backs Jason Thompson and D.J. Killings, linebackers Jonathan Freeny and Shea McClellin, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, and rookie defensive linemen Josh Augusta and Mikey Bart.
Assuming that many, if not most, of the aforementioned group have been let go, New England must trim about a couple dozen more players later this afternoon. Yet, the club continues to add to is roster.
According to media reports, the Patriots executed another trade, surrendering a draft choice for a young defensive back from Detroit, Johnson Bademosi.
"I'd like to have it set as soon as possible, but I'm realistic," head coach Bill Belichick said of the ongoing roster alterations just before Saturday's workout. "I don't think it's going to happen in the next 10 minutes or at 4 o'clock or anything. There'll be moving parts. We've dealt with it before. We'll do the best we can.
"You're trying to build your team, help your team. If there's a trade partner there and you can help your team, if you feel like it's fair value or good value, then that's what teams are doing. They're trying to maybe take a player where they have depth and exchange it for a player where they don't have depth and vice versa. It's hard to find that equal value that they have a guy where you need a guy and you have a guy where they need a guy and the players have equal value and the contracts are equal. It happens, but it's not that frequent. It's draft choices or some other combination of exchange of value in the trade."
Meanwhile, a couple of players – safety Nate Ebner and rookie linebacker Harvey Langi – were back in uniform today after missing recent practice and game time for unspecified reasons. Rookie offensive lineman Andrew Jelks (knee) and rookie defensive end Keionta Davis (neck) continue to appear during practice in shorts and t-shirts to conduct rehabilitation exercises for their respective ailments.
Last night, New England shipped cornerback Justin Coleman to the Seahawks in exchange for a future draft choice. Earlier this week, the Patriots gave up one to acquire third-year linebacker and special teams contributor Marquis Flowers in a trade with Cincinnati. Belichick explained his rationale for bringing in a player like Flowers so late in the preseason.
"His first year he was injured and didn't do much. He runs well, has got good length, is an aggressive player. He's played in a scheme similar to ours so we could see him do things similar to the way we do them. We've played against him. It's been a tough matchup."
Prior to suiting up today for his first Patriots practice, Flowers shared his thoughts about joining the Super Bowl champions as a late arrival.
"It's a little different feeling, obviously, but I can tell right away that this is a team where veterans really help out… It's definitely a different culture [from Cincinnati] because these are the defending Super Bowl champions, they carry themselves a certain way, everybody does their job, and the mottos…
"In Cincinnati," he continued, "obviously, it's still the NFL, you still have to be a professional, we still had rules to follow, but it's just certain things here that are stricter than Cincinnati. You learn that. I'm a team guy, so, whatever they say to do, I'm going to do.
"One of my teammates back in Cincinnati, [former Patriots receiver] Brandon LaFell, he always used to talk about that, so, I kind of knew to work hard, play hard, and the goal is to win every week."
It's somewhat unusual for the Patriots to be practicing on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, but it's necessary this year as the champs open the 2017 regular season on Thursday night against Kansas City.
"We put a lot of hard work in during training camp and [spring practices]," remarked running back Rex Burkhead, who joined the club as a free agent during the offseason, "but now it's for real. I'm just excited with a new team now, of course, and for the opportunity to play an opponent like the Chiefs on Thursday night. It's a great platform for us to show what we can do."
While Gillette Stadium will enjoy a festive atmosphere during pregame ceremonies to honor last season's success, Burkhead and his teammates understand that once the ball kicks off – and between now and then, for that matter – the focus of the Patriots players and coaches must be on Kansas City and the threat the Chiefs pose.
"Yeah, definitely, that's preached here," added Burkhead. "Last season's a great season, but it's a new year. We're ready to do great things. Got a lot of work and preparation we still have to put in, but we're looking forward to it."
Burkhead did not take part in the past two preseason games, but told reporters he feels "ready to go" against Kansas City.
New England will be back on the field Sunday afternoon, at which time the Patriots can also start assembling their 10-man practice squad.