Even though NFL rosters had to be slashed from 90 to 53 this weekend, New England's 2017 squad is far from finalized. Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline to reduce rosters to an active 53 was, as Bill Belichick described it, just one step in an on-going process.
"We're going to have more… transactions here," the Patriots head coach predicted, "whether it be today, tomorrow, or in the near future that will be important in the development and composition of the team. It's a little too early for me to comment on the composition of the team because it's still really a work in progress. I don't think we're at the finish line. I can't imagine that any other team in the league would feel that way either."
Today, clubs can also begin assembling their 10-man practice squads, which means there can be up to 63 players on any given team's roster throughout the regular season and playoffs. And with a flood of players suddenly available across the league, teams are racing to identify who's available and a potentially good fit for them.
However, unlike every other NFL team, save the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots are simultaneously scrambling to prepare for their early Week 1 contest versus those same Chiefs, who visit Foxborough this Thursday night. The rest of the NFL schedule opens on Sunday and Monday of next week.
"Just throwing everything into Kansas City, learning as much as possible, talking about adjustments, and what we'll have to do in Game 1," safety Devin McCourty remarked Sunday morning. "Everyone recognizes the difference between preseason and the regular season. Now, going out there, every game counts."
Not only is there an increased urgency to prepare while the team continues to take shape, but there's also less time before the opener and less information about the 2017 Chiefs for McCourty and his teammates to digest at this stage. That's why he and the rest of the players rely on their coaching staff's extensive experience and successful track record.
"It's a lot different in Week 10," added McCourty, "when you have nine games to go off of and study. Now, it's kind of going off a little bit of last year, a little preseason, and little of when we [last] played them. So, that's a wide range and pretty big gap."
"I thought we had a good start yesterday," Belichick observed, "but it's going to be important every day this week – because of all of the things that Kansas City does and how difficult they are to prepare for – that we continue to string good days together and be able to move forward in our preparation so we're as ready as we can possibly be on Thursday night.
"There's a lot going on outside of the preparations for Kansas City, but really our focus needs to be on that. That's where it is other than Nick [Caserio, the Patriots player personnel director] and some of the personnel people's involvement in some of the transactions that we've made and I'm sure will make."
So far, so good
Saturday was difficult for the dozens of Patriots asked to leave, but there's a chance some of them won't be gone for long. Many might rejoin the team as members of the practice squad or even the active roster at some point. Gone today does not necessarily mean gone permanently.
Nor is the opposite true. Here today doesn't guarantee that a player will be here tomorrow or any point in the future. However, for the moment, at least, some players can celebrate the accomplishment of having survived the roster cuts.
"I was just pretty excited because it's kind of come full-circle for me," admitted Cole Croston, an undrafted rookie offensive lineman and former walk-on from the University of Iowa. "I had my shot with the New England Patriots and I was able to achieve that goal. They were the only team I was really interested in."
Croston joins linebacker Harvey Langi, tight end Jacob Hollister, and defensive lineman Adam Butler as undrafted rookies to make the first iteration of the 2017 Patriots 53-man roster, continuing an annual trend in New England under Belichick.
"It's not how you get here, it's what you do when you're here. That's something Coach Belichick made clear when we first got here," Hollister pointed out. "So, I knew that if I put the work in and put what I needed to on film and got the guys to trust me, then I had a good chance. But I'm just happy to be here and ready to get to work."
Having earned a coveted NFL job, is there more urgency now for players like these to remain on the team than there was just make it in the first place?
"That's a tough question. I don't know," answered Hollister. "I feel like it's the same mindset every day. It's a business where you could be gone one day, be here another day. So, it's really [about] putting your best foot forward… I'm just going to do whatever I can to contribute and keep going."
"Absolutely. By no means am I guaranteed a spot at this point," Croston agreed. "I'm just taking it one day at a time and going to do my best every day I'm in the building."
Hollister's twin brother, Cody, a wide receiver, was among those the Patriots released on Saturday. Yet, Jacob hinted that his sibling might not be out of work for long, whether that's here in Foxborough or elsewhere in the NFL.
"Yeah, a little [bittersweet], but we both came into it knowing that's part of it and that this is a business. We'll find out here in a little bit what's going to be official with him. But he's really happy for me, and I'm really happy for him. We'll just move on and see what happens today."
Practice & locker room report
The Patriots conducted their first practice as an active roster Sunday at 2 p.m., at which time the media saw eight familiar players who are now, it's safe to assume, part of the team's practice squad: running back D.J. Foster, offensive linemen Ted Karras and James Ferentz, defensive end Geneo Grissom, linebacker Trevor Bates, rookie safeties David Jones and Damarius Travis, and rookie wide receiver Cody Hollister (as his brother hinted earlier). That leaves two open spots that New England can fill in the coming days.
On the 53-man roster, the only absentees were linebacker Shea McClellin and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine. McClellin briefly walked through the locker room this morning and exhibited no obvious signs of what's kept him off the field the past several weeks. Valentine's situation is also unclear at this point, and we won't have confirmation on either until the first official injury report of 2017 is unveiled either late today or tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the three newest Patriots acquired in trades over the past few days suited up for the first time Sunday. Defensive end Cassius Marsh was assigned jersey number 92, cornerback Johnson Bademosi wore the inverse, 29, and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett donned number 13.
In addition, the NFL's transaction wire service confirmed that four Patriots who were cut on Saturday – wide receiver Devin Lucien, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton, rookie d-lineman Josh Augusta, and rookie cornerback D.J. Killings – cleared waivers and will revert back to the Patriots on New England's injured reserve list.
Elsewhere, four former Patriots from this summer now have new homes on other teams, according to that same NFL transaction wire. Tight end James O'Shaughnessy was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, rookie wide receiver Austin Carr is now a New Orleans Saint, rookie offensive lineman Conor McDermott (the last of New England's four 2017 draft choices) was picked up by the Buffalo Bills, and rookie cornerback Kenny Moore plays for the Indianapolis Colt.