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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Michael Braithwaite

3 Players in danger of joining next round of roster cuts

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The New England Patriots announced on Saturday that they had waived defensive backs Jalen Eliott and Devin Hafford. Then, on Sunday, they announced they had also waived tight end Dalton Keene. These roster cuts come just a few days before the Monday deadline to trim the roster to 80 active players, the second wave of roster cuts during the NFL preseason.

With 82 current players on their roster, the Patriots will need to make at least two more roster moves in order to cut the roster down to the 80-player maximum by the deadline. Here are 3 players in danger of joining that next round of roster cuts.

1. Defensive Back Jabrill Peppers

Although he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with New England this offseason and was projected to immediately contribute to the secondary, Peppers has kept largely out of the spotlight so far during training camp. In all fairness, he did begin the practices on the physically unable to perform list, and, while he did come off that list in the week before the Patriots’ second preseason game versus the Carolina Panthers, it is a strong possibility that the team is just playing it safe with him.

However, the reason Peppers makes this list is because, in that aforementioned preseason matchup against Carolina, the Patriots used second-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe as a larger linebacker/safety hybrid later on into the game. Peppers has been used as a very similar linebacker/safety hybrid on previous teams and seemed likely to do so while on the Patriots this season. While maybe the team was just trying to gauge the versatility of Bledsoe, a second-year player who missed all of last season due to injury, it could have also been a tryout for Peppers’ hybrid role.

What makes this potential cut a little less likely is Peppers’ contract. While the $2 million salary that he is supposed to make this season isn’t too significant of an amount, it comes with $1.35 million in dead salary cap if he gets released. New England would have to find a trade partner for the six-year NFL veteran if they want to move his entire contract off of the books.

2. Running Back J.J. Taylor

Let me start by being frank: I absolutely love J.J. Taylor. He runs with an electricity and ferocity that I think pairs well with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. When pass-catching back James White went down with a season-ending hip injury last season, I thought Taylor was primed to be New England’s top passing back. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely how things worked out.

While Taylor did get in-game reps in White’s absence, he struggled heavily in pass protection and, when he got the ball, he just didn’t seem to be able to break away for longer runs (only 1.9 rushing yards per attempt last season). These shortcomings paved the way for Stevenson to become the Patriots’ top passing option last season, and he played well enough to earn the role for the rest of the season, despite his rookie status.

New England drafted two running backs in this year’s NFL draft, one of which (Pierre Strong) was renown in college for being a great pass-catcher. With those two running backs almost surefire locks to make either the 53-man roster or the practice squad given their fully-guaranteed rookie contracts, Taylor seems to be the odd one out in that position group.

3. Offensive Guard Bill Murray

While the transition from a defensive lineman to an offensive guard may seem quite easy to some, the reality is that the technique and footwork required on the offensive side of the ball uses a different skill set than the technique and strength needed on the defensive side of the ball.

Murray decided to switch positions this offseason and has been working with the offensive units for most of training camp. However, he’s been seldom used with any unit above the third-team squad and is still learning how to play the position well.

In New England’s first preseason game versus the New York Giants, one could’ve seen Murray effectively bull-rushing his defensive counterpart downfield while quarterback Bailey Zappe was throwing the ball. While it is certainly fun to see this sort of action out of an offensive lineman and it is likely that the Patriots’ coaching staff was approving of Murray’s effort, the reality is that this sort of play only emphasizes the fact that Murray is still learning how to play the position.

For starters, offensive linemen can’t even be more than five yards downfield of the line of scrimmage if the ball has not moved past it, and an infraction of this rule results in a five-yard penalty. Moreover, Murray’s display of effort underlines the fact that, at this point in time, he is willing to risk a five-yard infraction if it results in him doing his job well.

While I would love more than anything for Murray to find a home in some position on the 53-man roster, he just hasn’t yet shown that he has developed his abilities on the offensive side of the ball well enough to earn a reserve role, and, for that reason, I think there is a strong likelihood that he could be released.

However, his versatility in playing both offense and defense could end up proving valuable to the Patriots, and maybe it could be the driving force behind him making the team as a depth piece. While unlikely, Murray’s desire to switch positions to help the team could sway New England’s coaching staff to keep him around just in case they need an offensive or defensive lineman in a pinch.

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