The Patriots withdrew their qualifying offer from running back/kickoff returner Derrick Cullors, making the three-year veteran a free agent.
Cullors, 27, spent the 1999 season on injured reserve after injuring his right knee in the preseason opener against Washington. In his first two years with the Patriots (1997-98), he was utilized as a third-down back and kickoff returner. In those roles, he rushed for 149 yards on 40 carries, caught 16 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown and returned 60 kickoffs for 1,471 yards, a 24.5-yard average.
Though the Patriots don't have an established starting running back, Cullors was deemed expendable. Third-round draft choice J.R. Redmond, free agent acquisition Raymont Harris and second-year player Kevin Faulk will compete for the starting job. Redmond and Harris are likely the leading candidates, and Faulk spent most of his rookie season as a third-down back behind veteran Terry Allen. Seventh-round pick Patrick Pass of Georgia will also compete for a roster spot.
Cullors has value as a kickoff returner, as evidenced by his performance in 1998. He led the team with 45 returns for 1,085 yards (24.1 average) and had a season-long return of 68 yards at Denver.
However, Faulk showed he was more than capable of filling the role last season. Wide receivers Troy Brown and Tony Simmons and defensive back Tebucky Jones also returned kicks in 1999 for New England, while Redmond and Pass did so for their respective college teams.