The Patriots are getting an early start on some of their cuts — with Mohamed Sanu, CB Michael Jackson and DL Michael Barnett released Thursday — so we better get our final list out.
We made a few changes. Some of them were very close and basically a flip of the coin, the team has much more data from the last week (plus health reports) that we'll never have — a backup offensive tackle spot between Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajuste could well have been decided in the practices closed to the media because Cajuste was ascending and Cunningham sliding as we finished.
But we'll go with our best guess at what we think Bill Belichick will do.
One big factor that went into some of our decisions had to do with the practice squad/IR rule changes for this season, and they are substantial. Namely:
- Teams can carry 16 players on a practice squad (up from the previous 12);
- Six of those spots can be used for players with unlimited service time;
- There is no more unlimited pay for practice squad players. Normal service time players (rookies, players with fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season(s) and players who have earned no more than two accrued seasons) get $8,400 a week. Veterans are at $12,000 per week (just $204,000 for the season).
- Two practice squad players per week may be elevated to the team’s roster, meaning game-week roster sizes could effectively increase from 53 to 55 — at full minimum pay for their service time.
- A player elevated from the practice squad to the 55-man roster could be sent back to the practice squad two times without having to clear waivers.
- A player on a practice squad is free to sign with another team at any point, but must be added to the 53-man roster. There are no practice squad-to-practice squad transactions.
- Teams are allowed to protect four players on the practice squad every Tuesday that can't be signed by another team.
- Unlimited players can return from IR after three weeks.
This means some of the decisions and discussions will be much different this time around. Basically, teams are going to have to do a sell job with some of their veterans to get them to stick around and take one of the six unlimited spots. But those positions could be extremely valuable this season with the unknown surrounding Covid testing once teams enter the season, and the likelihood that injuries will be at a substantially higher rate than years with normal offseasons.
One note: I don't, obviously, have the injury information the Patriots do, so it's difficult for me to put players who were absent from practice this week — RB Damien Harris (finger), WR Gunner Olszewski, DT Nick Thurman, DT Beau Allen, LB Scoota Harris and DL Tashawn Bower, according to reports — on injured reserve and gain spots that way, but I did it in a few spots ... the Patriots could do that as well, and I could see them putting Harris, Olszewski, Allen and Harris on IR for the first three weeks and keeping Lamar Miller, Jeff Thomas, Bill Murray and Terez Hall/Derek Rivers/Rashod Berry on the active roster until they're healthy).
Let's get on with the final list:
- Brian Hoyer sticks: Don't let anyone tell you different — Hoyer beat out Stidham again, and there's no financial penalty for keeping Hoyer this time around. Many teams are concerned about what might happen should Covid go through their QB room and having just two leaves too much to chance — plus, nobody knows the playbook like Hoyer.
- Damien Harris to injured reserve: Under the rules for this season, teams can bring back an unlimited number of players back from IR after three weeks. Nobody really knows how bad Harris' injury is. I've been told a couple weeks. Is he really going to miss only one game? I have a hard time seeing that. They have enough options at the position to get through three weeks and to get Harris back at full strength. I think the Patriots are going to try to squeeze in a few roster spots, and this is one way to do it.
- Lamar Miller released (practice squad): If Harris is put on IR, that could give Miller more time, but the practice squad would be an ideal place to stash him until injuries hit.
- Jakobi Meyers takes Sanu's spot: It's either him or Jeff Thomas, and we're going with the more dependable Meyers who already knows the offense and hope I can get Thomas to the practice squad since he didn't have much post-draft interest. I'm hearing Thomas really isn't ready yet. I think Devin Ross makes the team.
- Korey Cunningham for Yodny Cajuste: Belichick could very well opt to stash Cajuste on the roster to see if he can get more bang for his third-round pick (Foxboro Flu would be ideal), but I don't think Cajuste is anywhere near ready to play this season and this team has little room for error. Cunningham has more experience, so he's the swing tackle.
- Derek Rivers on team, Beau Allen to IR: Nobody has any idea what is going on with Allen other than he hasn't been on the practice field, so anything could happen. But IR seems logical at this point, and instead of keeping another subpar interior player, I'm going with Rivers, who a lot of people are rooting for in the building. Brandon Copeland's spot on the team is not secure so that's another way to keep Rivers if need be.
- Joejuan Williams on team, Scoota Harris to IR: I originally had Williams as a trade, but he showed off his versatility later in camp. Keeping just four real cornerbacks, Williams is a good player to have around to be a matchup player most of the time but ready to fill in if there are depth issues at cornerback. Terrence Brooks would be a surprise cut since he received substantial playing time in camp (so did Sanu, and Shilique Calhoun — another surprise cut candidate — for that matter). My thinking is Brooks was a placeholder for Adrian Phillips, who the team obviously thought was an upgrade over someone on the roster — likely Brooks. But Phillips could easily be the one on the outs. But in the end, I'm opting for Brooks and his ability on special teams (always a key for Belichick) and putting Scoota Harris (could be Cassh Maluia or Terez Hall) on IR to buy me some more time.
If the Patriots place players on injured reserve, I'm bringing back in order: