One of the NFL’s biggest hitters was smacked with some surprising news Saturday as teams trimmed their rosters to the league-mandated limit of 53 players.
Safety Brandon Meriweather, whose helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap in Week 6 last season drew a hefty fine and became symbolic of the NFL’s crackdown on violent and flagrantly dangerous tackles, was among the players cut loose by the New England Patriots.
A first-round pick in the 2007 draft, Meriweather appeared in 64 consecutive games and two Pro Bowls, but was seeing backup and garbage time in the preseason as he landed in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse.
Meriweather wasn’t unemployed long. The unrestricted free agent was picked up by the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The Patriots also cut veteran running back Sammy Morris and wide receiver Brandon Tate, their third-round pick in 2009 who figures to be picked up by another team very quickly. Tate started 10 games in 2010, finishing with 24 catches for 432 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned 41 kickoffs for 1,057 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Other notable veterans who are currently out of work:
• Running back Chester Taylor finally learned his fate by the Chicago Bears on Saturday when his name was among the final cuts. It was an especially cruel week for Taylor, who had been told the previous Tuesday that coach Lovie Smith was cutting him. That transaction proved premature. Saturday’s roster move made it official.
• Running back Larry Johnson, a mid-camp pickup by the Miami Dolphins, didn’t impress coaches there and was among the team’s final cuts on Saturday. The Dolphins also said goodbye to cornerback Will Allen after five seasons in Miami.
• Quarterback Dan Orlovsky lost the backup-quarterback competition in Indianapolis to Curtis Painter as the Colts prepare to welcome back Peyton Manning from offseason neck surgery. It’s still unclear whether Manning will be in uniform in Week 1. If he plays, it would keep intact his remarkable streak of 208 consecutive regular-season starts.
The Colts also parted with veteran defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the former Bears star many figured had secured a job in Indianapolis after playing well in the preseason.
• The Philadelphia Eagles’ star-studded roster shed some of its lesser-known standouts, including cornerback Joselio Hanson, wide receiver Sinorice Moss and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. According to an NFL source, Philadelphia had dangled Hanson as trade bait in exchange for a low-round draft pick but found no takers. Hanson is a solid nickel cornerback and will be on another team’s roster within days.
Philadelphia also activated tackle offensive tackle Winston Justice from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but he had to agree to a pay cut to make the final roster, according to ESPN. Justice, who’s recovering from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, isn’t expected to be ready by Week 1.
• Now that San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has declared Alex Smith his starting quarterback, the team cut backup Josh McCown, leaving rookie Colin Kaepernick as the No. 2. Kaepernick performed extremely poorly in the preseason, and the 49ers are expected to scout the waiver wire for another veteran arm.
• The San Diego Chargers cut ties with two players who have been with the team the past two seasons, wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu and defensive lineman Ogemdi Nwagbuo, who has been with the team since 2009.
San Diego added to its roster as well, signing 12th-year veteran linebacker Na’il Diggs, who will play inside linebacker in the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme. Diggs has 139 career starts.
• The Denver Broncos waived controversial cornerback Perrish Cox, ending speculation about how the team would handle the distraction of a player facing a sexual-assault trial later this year. Cox started nine times as a rookie last year, but entered camp as a backup.
• Lito Sheppard, the one-time Eagles, Jets and Vikings standout, may have reached the end of the line when the Oakland Raiders cut him along with cornerback Walter McFadden on Saturday. Sheppard was a nine-game starter for the Jets in 2009.
The 10-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback was a first-round pick (No. 26 overall) by the Eagles in 2002.
The Raiders also cut veteran quarterback Trent Edwards. The move means Kyle Boller will back up Jason Campbell’s while the team waits for newly drafted Terrelle Pryor to return after his five-game suspension to start the season.
• The Cincinnati Bengals reached their 53-man limit, in part by placing Adam “Pacman” Jones on the PUP list and putting tight end Bo Scaife on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. They also placed linebacker Keith Rivers (wrist) on the reserve/non-football injury list. He and Jones are out the first six weeks of the season.
In the last few days, several well-known players also received suspensions by the NFL.
• Bengals guard Bobbie Williams was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
• Tennessee Titans fullback Ahmard Hall also was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Tennessee was prepared, however, acquiring Quinn Johnson from Green Bay in a trade for an undisclosed draft pick.
• Washington Redskins nickel back Phillip Buchanon also has received a four-game suspension by the NFL, although coach Mike Shanahan revealed the punishment came down “a while back” from the league. The suspension coincided with the announcement on Friday that Buchanon, 30, was re-signing with the Redskins.
What’s next? Starting Sunday, teams will begin building their practice squads of up to eight players. And the waiver wire for picking up other team’s leftovers starts with the Carolina Panthers, who had the NFL’s worst record last season at 2-14.
Up next are the Broncos, whose franchise-worst 4-12 record in 2010 gives them the second waiver-wire claim.