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Few surprises among initial roster moves

Bill Belichick cut his roster down to 52 to begin the weekend.

The Patriots spent the first part of Labor Day weekend trimming down to the league-mandated 53-man roster – actually going one better by cutting to 52 on Saturday. They will likely spend the remainder of it looking for other pieces that may help.

For now, there weren't many surprises among the 36 roster moves made. Two quick takeaways: it wasn't a good day to be a recent draft pick and the depth at offensive line and wide receiver will almost certainly be addressed quickly.

New England released defensive linemen Vincent Valentine, Eric Lee, Frank Herron, John Atkins and Trent Harris, cornerbacks Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz, wide receivers Devin Lucien, Paul Turner, K.J. Maye and Riley McCarron, running backs Mike Gillislee, Khalfani Muhammad, Brandon Bolden, Kenneth Farrow and Ralph Webb, tight end Will Tye, safeties Damarius Travis and A.J. Moore, linebackers Marquis Flowers and Harvey Langi, offensive linemen Luke Bowanko, Cole Croston, Brian Schwenke, Matt Tobin, Jason King and James Ferentz, quarterback Danny Etling, fullback Henry Poggi and punter Corey Bojorquez. 

In addition, the team placed tackle Isaiah Wynn (Achilles), tackle Ulrick John (foot), wide receiver Braxton Berrios and linebacker Christian Sam on injured reserve. The Patriots also kicked off the weekend by trading safety Jordan Richards to Atlanta for a conditional draft pick, reportedly a seventh-rounder in 2020.

When the dust settled, Bill Belichick was down to 52 players, which means he'll be busy in the coming hours and days tinkering with his personnel even further. Various reports indicate rookie tight end Ryan Izzo, who is currently on the roster, will move to injured reserve as well, which would make him eligible to return after eight weeks if the team so chooses.

The closest thing to a surprise was the departures of Jones and Valentine, a pair of high draft picks, as well as Gillislee. Jones was the team's second-rounder in 2016 while Valentine came in the third of the same draft. The Patriots now have just guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras and linebacker Elandon Roberts left from that class.

Gillislee opened 2017 as the lead back and scored three touchdowns in the Week 1 loss to the Chiefs. He slowly fell out of favor, however, and was a healthy scratch in the postseason. He was outplayed in the preseason by Jeremy Hill and is gone just a year after signing as a restricted free agent.

Here's a breakdown of the roster as is currently constituted:

Quarterback (2)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Not much drama here. The rookie Etling showed flashes of ability but nowhere near consistently enough to warrant a roster spot.

Running back (4)

James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and Jeremy Hill

Bolden has been in this position before and could wind up back on the roster to help on special teams and as a depth running back. Both Michel and Burkhead are dealing with knee injuries so the Patriots may need another body here early in the season.

Fullback (1)

James Develin

The Pro Bowler provides plenty of blocking in his role.

Wide receiver (3)

Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson

Julian Edelman's four-game suspension starts now so he does not count on the roster, and the rookie Berrios was placed on IR. McCarron's release was a mild surprise solely due to the lack of bodies, but Belichick will likely add a piece or two here shortly. Baltimore said goodbye to 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who could be an option. Former Titans wideout Kendall Wright may also be an intriguing option.

Tight end (4)

Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen, Ryan Izzo

As mentioned earlier, Izzo could be headed to IR and the other three were virtual locks, although Hollister missed the final two preseason games due to injury, leaving his status for the opener in doubt.

Offensive line (7)

Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras

Isaiah Wynn and Ulrick John landed on IR, chipping away at the tackle depth. As of now Waddle is the lone backup at the position, another element of the roster that will almost certainly change prior to the Texans arrival. The good news is Cannon's nagging injury must be improving enough to allow the team to release veterans Tobin and Croston.

That's a total of 21 offensive players, which is a pretty low number.

Defensive line (10)

Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler

A bit of a surprise to see Grissom's name here. He's been on and off the roster periodically over the last two seasons but evidently did enough to stick around. Keionta Davis, a first-year player out of Chattanooga, has some versatility to his game and got a ton of reps in the preseason. He'll look to carve out of role in subpackages.

Linebacker (5)

Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Nicholas Grigsby

Bentley has been the team's best rookie while his fellow classmate Sam heads to IR. Marquis Flowers' release was a bit of a surprise as his presence on special teams and ability to perform as a backup seemed to offer some value. Grigsby, a physical and versatile athlete, takes his role. 

Cornerback (6)

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen

The feeling heading into the weekend was Jackson and Crossen were likely fighting for one spot while Cyrus Jones' ability to return punt earned him at least a one-month stay while Edelman was out. Turned out both rookies took spots with Jackson extending Belichick's streak to 15 straight seasons keeping at least one undrafted rookie. Dawson has been dealing with a hamstring injury that cost him a lot of summer practice time.

Safety (4)

Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jason McCourty

The Richards trade made Jason McCourty safe and he'll likely fill a role at both corner and safety. The veteran was not overly impressive in his playing time, and his presence on the field in the second half of the final preseason game was an ominous sign. But Belichick must like his veteran presence and he gets to play with his brother after all.

Specialists (6)

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

The kicking game had little drama, particularly when Belichick chose to keep Bojorquez in mothballs all preseason. Slater, King and Ebner are all valuable in the kicking game and provide depth at their respective positions.

Obviously this will be a fluid situation with the Patriots likely needing to add two players (assuming Izzo heads to IR). Belichick also will be putting together his 10-man practice squad, which should include a number of players who were released.

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