Two of the star quarterback’s longtime teammates from New England’s Super Bowl-winning teams — wide receiver Deion Branch (MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX) and center Dan Koppen — as well as his backup (Brian Hoyer) were cut Friday as the Patriots trimmed players to reach the NFL’s 53-man roster limit.
Branch was one of Brady’s favorite receiving targets on the 2003 and 2004 Patriots teams that captured NFL championships. Branch was traded to Seattle in 2006 following a contract dispute but re-acquired by New England during the 2010 season.
Because of his status as a vested NFL veteran, Branch was given his outright release rather than placed on the waiver wire. If he doesn’t head elsewhere, the 33-year-old Branch could be re-signed after Week 1 of the regular season when his base salary wouldn’t be guaranteed for the entire year. This would give the Patriots both roster and salary-cap flexibility in case they want to release Branch again later in the season to make another roster move.
Branch started 15 games for New England last season, catching 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns. The Patriots also released veteran wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth earlier this week and parted ways with Chad Johnson in the offseason.
Like Branch, the 32-year-old Koppen played on the Patriots squads that won Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. The nine-year veteran spent almost all of last season on injured reserve after suffering a leg injury in the Week 1 opener against Miami. Koppen was beaten out by 2011 replacement Dan Connolly for a starting spot during preseason.
Hoyer was the most surprising cut. The Patriots thought enough of Hoyer during the offseason to place a second-round tender on him as a restricted free agent. That greatly limited any potential interest Hoyer would have received from other suitors.
The Patriots, though, decided to hand the backup reins to 2011 third-round pick Ryan Mallett, who didn’t appear in an NFL game as a rookie. Mallett’s perceived upside and Hoyer’s $1.9 million base salary are believed to have figured into New England’s decision to place him on the waiver wire.
Based upon media reports and team announcements, here are some other notable veterans who are now on the market after being cut before Friday night’s 9 p.m. NFL roster deadline:
Denver cornerback Drayton Florence: When released by Buffalo post-draft, Florence drew moderate interest as a nickel cornerback candidate. Even though he couldn’t stick with the Broncos, Florence should be signing elsewhere soon because of the league-wide demand for cornerbacks.
Washington running back Tim Hightower: A four-man preseason competition at running back was reduced to three when Hightower was released.
Hightower started the first five games for Washington last season after being acquired in a trade with Arizona. Hightower, though, ended the year on injured reserve after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris are now the top three Redskins backs.
Cleveland quarterback Seneca Wallace: Entering the preseason, it appeared demoted starter Colt McCoy was the quarterback destined for a new team in 2012.
McCoy, though, outplayed the 32-year-old Wallace to land the backup spot behind rookie Brandon Weeden.
Philadelphia safety O.J. Atogwe and cornerback Joselio Hanson: The fact that the Eagles need safety help and still cut Otogwe doesn’t bode well for the 31-year-old’s NFL future.
Hanson’s departure is a surprise considering the body of work he has logged in Philadelphia primarily as a nickel cornerback. However, rookie Brandon Boykin has looked impressive during the preseason.
Hanson should be one of the most highly sought cornerbacks available after final roster cuts.
St. Louis defensive end Vernon Gholston: It didn’t take long for the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 draft to make a quick departure. Gholston, who was a bust with the New York Jets, was cut by St. Louis after less than two weeks on the Rams roster.
Houston fullback Moran Norris: A journeyman fullback since 2001, the 34-year-old Norris is looking for a new home once again. The Texans released Norris and acquired fullback Tyler Clutts in a trade with Chicago, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Amobi Okoye: A knee injury hurt Okoye’s chances of sticking on the Buccaneers’ roster. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Bears are set to re-sign Okoye, who played with the team in 2011.
New Orleans kicker John Kasay: Kasay’s release wasn’t that surprising as Garrett Hartley had successfully returned from a 2011 hip injury. A more intriguing development: Will the Carolina Panthers – where Kasay kicked for the franchise’s first 17 years of existence – have interest in re-signing him to replace newcomer Justin Medlock?
St. Louis fullback Ovie Mughelli: Once one of the NFL’s highest-paid fullbacks by Atlanta, Mughelli was cut from his second team this year Friday. The 32-year-old Mughelli should be near the top of the list of available free-agent fullbacks for teams with a need.
Detroit cornerback Alphonso Smith: When the Lions cut a cornerback from their thin secondary, that isn’t a good sign. Smith, a high 2009 second-round pick by Denver, couldn’t stick as a cornerback or safety.
Buffalo defensive lineman Dwan Edwards: Edwards was liked within the Bills organization, but not at a salary of $4.1 million with so much money being allocated toward other defensive linemen like free-agent pickups Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Edwards could land on the radar of teams seeking a 3-4 end.
San Diego defensive end Jacques Cesaire: He isn’t much of a name out of San Diego. Even in town, Cesaire is no L.T. or Philip Rivers. Cesaire, though, was a highly respected teammate of those Chargers and many others during nine seasons with the team after sticking as an undrafted free agent. The 32-year-old Cesaire started 29 games combined in 2009 and 2010 but fell to backup status last season.
Philadelphia quarterback Mike Kafka: Eagles head coach Andy Reid has done a masterful job developing quarterbacks before trading them for high draft choices. Kafka was supposed to follow in the footsteps of passers like Kevin Kolb and A.J. Feeley – stop snickering, please – but things fell apart in the preseason. Kafka broke his non-throwing hand, opening the door for 2012 fourth-round pick Nick Foles to wrestle the backup spot behind Michael Vick. When he returned, Kafka was outplayed by journeyman Trent Edwards. Kafka should draw a close look as a developmental quarterback/backup for teams that run a West Coast-style offense.
Seattle tight end Kellen Winslow: The Seattle Seahawks waived tight end Kellen Winslow. The veteran tight end didn’t have much impact during preseason games but was thought to be a key element of Seattle’s offense. Winslow was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in May after he said it became clear he didn’t fit into the plans of new Bucs coach Greg Schiano.