The deadline for NFL cuts to get to the 53-man roster was a couple of days ago. And it's always one of the strangest times on the calendar to be covering the Patriots. Not just because it happens over Labor Day weekend and I'd rather be on a golf course or a brewery. But also because the way they go about the cuts, I'm better off just being on a golf course or at a brewery and let it all play out for a day or two and then address it once the whole deck has been shuffled.
Bill Belichick settling on his final roster is like Bob Ross doing an oil painting. At some point you'll think he's ruined it with a giant black splotch off to the side. But a minute later he puts yellow paint on a chisel, smears some triangles onto the splotch and it metamorphosizes into a mountain range at sunset. And when he makes a mistake, he turns it into a beautiful bird.
So the whole process requires patience, not assumptions. Waiting and seeing, not jumping to conclusions. Remembering there is a true visionary artistic master holding the pallet, not a madman. And allow his vision to take form.
That said, now that it's Tuesday and the "official" roster has been announced, here are a few random thoughts on where we stand:
--So you know that battle that raged through most of camp for the kicker's job? It turns out the winner was you. Or me. Or the Queen of England. Maybe Gus the Kicking Mule or Kathy Ireland.
The fact is, with five days to go before kickoff, they have no one to kick off. OK, Jake Bailey the punter can. But after releasing rookie Justin Rohrwasser and 38-year-old Nick Folk, there is no kicker listed on the unofficial depth chart on their official team page. Both kickers made it through waivers and are back on the practice squad, which was expanded from 10 players to 16 for the Season of Covid. But it would seem they're waiting to see if anyone better gets released before they settle on either one. Or, they've simply decided to go for 1st downs and two-point conversions all season, like when you play touch football.
--Of all the guys who cleared waivers and were brought back, the most gratifying is undrafted rookie running back JJ Taylor, the 5-foot-5, 185 pound all-purpose back out of Arizona. His production in college speaks for itself. He can run, catch balls out of the backfield, return punts and, if needed, slip unnoticed into Mordor. RB coach Ivan Spears compared him to Dion Lewis just days ago. He's a folk hero in the making, the way Danny Woodhead was. Or, for you OK Boomers, Mini Mack Herron back in the day. More importantly, he's been named to the 53, which extends a streak of at least one UDFA making the roster that now stands at 17 seasons.
--Taylor's spot was available because Damien Harris is IR'd after getting his pinky finger operated on. He's expected to be back at the end of the month. Or, if you prefer, when September ends. In the meantime, I'd love it if Harris' absence means we get the chance to see Taylor get some rushing attempts and targets.
--Another released player who's been brought back is LB Cassh Maluia, the sixth round rookie out of Wyoming. He also made the roster. And the substantial bump in pay that comes with it.
But I care for you too much to make the obvious, low-hanging pun about Cassh getting paid more. It's not hard to gain someone's respect, but it's very hard to get it back once you lose it.
--And while we're talking about Dad Jokes, the release of DT Bill Murray is a tremendous loss to the Snarky Football/Pop Culture Writing industry. Though also not unexpected. But still. Those Knee Jerk Reactions would've written themselves. Moving on.
--The decision to release Mohamed Sanu is all the harder to process when you look at this receiver depth chart. Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski. Another surprise is the cut of Devin Ross, who often times stood out in practices and looked like a semi-legitimate deep threat. I suppose I could half-full this by saying it reflects on how much confidence the coaching staff has in the younger guys, but still. Byrd is second among this group in career catches. With 44. And seeing this from one year ago didn't help any:
That depth chart even had Demaryius Thomas. If this unit can be remotely productive, it'll cause the free agent wide receiver market to crash and send their wages into free fall.
--The toughest cut of all - though by no means an unexpected one - is former Navy DE turned U.S. Marine Corps officer turned TE prospect Paul Quessenberry getting his release. Granted, it was no more than a pipe dream since he's been wearing a different kind of helmet for the last five years. But still. He'll have to just go be a magnificent badass in some other line of work.
--The secondary is without question the strength of this team and will be the unit that carries it as far as it goes. But in terms of the roster, it is a team built around its offensive line, which takes up 10 spots. That means a backup at every position, like the teeth of a Great White. The only question that remains unanswered is who'll replace the opted out Marcus Cannon at right tackle. I've got a soft spot for second year West Virgina Mountaineer Yodny Cajuste. But the smart bet is on Jermaine Elumenor, who was with them most of last year and, at 335 lbs is by far the biggest body they've had since they lost planetoid Trent Brown to free agency.
--The Pats have three tight ends on their roster, who combined have six career receptions, all by sophomore seventh rounder Ryan Izzo, who is basically a third tackle. My advice is you try not to think about that when your head hits the pillow all week.
--But the tight end situation speaks to the roster on the whole, on both sides of the ball, at every level. This is a team designed to rely on its younger talent. For better or worse, the 2020 Pats will get as far as their youth will take them. Players in their first three seasons. Sony Michel, Harris, Harry, Olszewski, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene and Isaiah Wynn on offense, J'Whaun Bentley, Kyle Dugger, Anfernee Jennings, Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich and Josh Uche on defense. Due to a combination of things, they've gotten sub-optimal production out of their recent draft classes, and that has to end now if they're going to compete. Covid-shortened offseason or no.
--At least for now though, they get to be led by a 31 year old quarterback who's been there before instead of a second year guy. So we've got that going for us. Which is nice. (My one and only Bill Murray line of the season. I miss him already.) Kick the ball off already. Or at least once you figure out who the kicker is.