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When Brady and Ninkovich Return on Monday, Who Goes?

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
5 years ago at 1:30 pm ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

When Brady and Ninkovich Return on Monday, Who Goes?Jim Dedmon - USA TODAY Sports

Roster Cutdown Decision to be a tough one

The Patriots will welcome back both QB Tom Brady and DE Rob Ninkovich on Monday from their league suspensions but with it comes to some bad news. Two of the current members of the roster will have to be cut to make room. And those decisions won’t be easy.

A quick look at the roster and there is no glaring position or player that will easily be cut. The 53-man roster as it is presently constructed is pretty deep, as deep as any a Bill Belichick has had in recent years. So with that in mind, the coaches may opt to let a couple of players go where the players may have some practice squad eligibility left, and be brought back. So here is a couple of positions where the team may have some options.

Offensive Line: Right now the starting unit of Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon appears to be the one they’re sticking with and has played well so far this season. Cameron Fleming is seeing a lot of reps at swing tackle so those players appear to be set.

Rookie Ted Karras has practice squad eligibility but he’s a backup for not only at guard but at center as well. The Patriots obviously like what they have in G Jonathan Cooper who came over in the Chandler Jones trade because they’ve kept him around all this time while not seeing him on the field yet. Another option could be backup tackle, LaAdrian Waddle.

The reason against any of those players going? The Patriots have traditionally kept nine offensive linemen and the chances of them going with less than that, considering the injuries they had there a year ago seem remote.

Tight End: The team is currently carrying four with Martellus Bennett, Rob Gronkowski, Clay Harbor and A.J. Derby. I was a little surprised that they opted for four to start the season but given the injury to Gronk and the time on the PUP list for Harbor, it wasn’t that much of a stretch.

Tight A. J. Derby was a standout during the preseason but has played very sparingly in the first three games. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now they may be forced to cut one due just to a numbers crunch. Gronk and Bennett aren’t going anywhere. Does the team really need four tight ends? But deciding who goes is a tough question. Derby had the better preseason and training camp but has no real game experience. Harbor is a veteran, can play special teams and was given decent but not great money this spring during free agency to come over from the Jaguars. Derby has PS eligibility which is where he may end up if the team decides that he’d pass thru waivers.

Linebacker: Here is where things get really intriguing. Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower as well as Jonathan Freeny are locked. Shea McClellin due to his contract this season is pretty much a lock and has the versatility to play either LB or DE. Barkevious Mingo has been a core STs player but has really played very little on defense. Elandon Roberts is a two-down, run stopping thumper. He’s played sparingly.

Ninkovich, when he returns, can add to the depth at linebacker. Not only has he played there in the past, he did practice there some this spring and summer. And playing him there may be in the cards. With Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Trey Flowers playing solidly at defensive end, where will Ninkovich fit in the rotation?

While he could step right in on the edge, the best-case scenario would have him filling in at both DE/LB where they can get all of them on the field at the same time. So Roberts may find himself in a numbers crunch and with practice squad eligibility, may be the choice here. Mingo and McClellin seem less likely because of their versatility to play either DE or LB but aren’t out of the realm of possibility.

Shea McClellin (58) can line up as a DE or drop into coverage as a LB. (SBalestrieri photo)

Secondary: The chance that the team could cut any of the core players in the secondary seems somewhat unlikely. The safeties all have roles that Belichick and Matt Patricia seem comfortable with having them all stay put. With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman and top pick Cyrus Jones all having distinct roles puts them in the locked category.

The only possibilities remain, Eric Rowe, the big corner that came over from the Eagles or Jonathan Jones the UDFA corner from Auburn who won a slot on the 53-man roster out of training camp.

Running Back: The team has LaGarrette Blount (seems like ages ago when many had him as on the bubble for training camp), and James White as locks. They both have distinct roles in the running and passing games and aren’t going anywhere. Fullback James Develin likewise is a key member of the offense, indeed, his contributions were missed a year ago in opening holes in the run game.

Brandon Bolden doesn’t offer a ton in the running game but is one of the core special teams’ guys. He caused a key fumble on a kickoff a week against the Texans a week ago. D.J. Foster is a rookie who has practice squad eligibility and was a healthy scratch for two out of the first three games. But he’s a very intriguing kid who when he gets into open space can easily make opponents miss. Would he pass thru waivers and make it to the practice squad?  I’d say that was doubtful.

There just isn’t any way that the team could cut a WR, QB or the specialists without leaving themselves woefully short. So what will the coaches do? One thing is for sure, they’re already having talks on this. They’ll have to see how Sunday’s game goes and make a decision accordingly. The decision to cut someone loose won’t be an easy one. It may come down to someone getting a case of the “Foxboro Flu” this weekend.

 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots Roster 2016 Patriots season 53 Man Roster Projection Barkevious Mingo Bill Belichick DeflateGate Dont'a Hightower Elandon Roberts Jabaal Sheard James White Jimmy Garoppolo Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Shea McClellin Tom Brady


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