New England Patriots

2017 Patriots: Phillip Dorsett & Making Sense of the Roster Cut-Down

What Phillip Dorsett Brings to the Table

The biggest move of the day for the Patriots, and the entire league, was trading 3rd string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. It’s not often that you see a player-for-player exchange in the NFL, so let’s take a look at the implications of this trade:

  1. The Patriots fill a special teams need. By all accounts, Dorsett has the appearance of a bust. Fifty-one receptions for 753 yards and 3 touchdowns is not what you expect out of a first round pick, particularly one that has started 26 of his last 30 games. Troubling is the fact that Dorsett’s catch percentage is hovering just over 50%–compare that to a player like Julian Edelman, who Dorsett is ostensibly filling in for, with a target-to-reception percentage of 66%. Thankfully, Dorsett is not being brought in as a starting wide-receiver, at least not any time soon. Having lost Edelman and Cyrus Jones for the season, the Patriots are without a designated punt returner. They could turn to Dion Lewis or Danny Amendola to fill the role, but both have a consistent history of injury that will only be exacerbated by being asked to return punts. Matthew Slater is a strong candidate for kick-returns, given his smart-decision making on the field and captain of special teams. However, the Patriots need a reliable, and talented player to return punts this season. I think it’s likely we will see Dion Lewis as the punt-returner in the home-opener against Kansas City, but expect Dorsett to take over the role by Week 2 or 3. The caveat is Dorsett has not returned punts since college. Over two seasons in Indianapolis he returned 2 punts for 1 yard. His production was better at the University of Miami, but not by much. However, Dorsett has speed. He runs a 4.33 40-yard dash and possess the tools needed to be a punt-returner if called upon. It will be interesting to see how he, as a player, responds to the job. Given the difficulty of the Patriots offense, the depth at WR and the acquisition of Brandin Cooks, I would not expect Dorsett to feature heavily in the offense at any point during the season. It’s hard to imagine a 3rd year, former first round pick wide receiver casually accepting his role as a returner instead of offensive weapon. But hopefully Dorsett will embrace the opportunity to make a niche for himself on a very offensively talented team.
  2. More Insight into the plan for Jimmy Garoppolo. If the Patriots truly intend to keep Jimmy Garoppolo as the heir to Brady’s throne, then Jacoby Brissett’s position on the roster becomes redundant. Last year they needed a 3rd quarterback to weather the tide of Brady’s suspension, and it ended up working to their advantage in a close-out win against Miami and a shutout victory over the Texans. This year, things are different. I thought the Patriots would keep Brissett as a gameday inactive and trade him for a second-round pick in the offseason. Instead, they saved a roster spot by trading away a player at a redundant position. It’s hard to say a wide receiver trending towards bust-material will be more valuable than a quarterback showing promise in the long term, but this is probably one of the better scenarios for the Patriots. There is almost no way, outside of catastrophic injury, that Brissett would have seen playing time this season. NFL rosters are surprisingly tight. You can’t waste a precious spot on a player you have no intention on fielding at any point during the season. I was disappointed to see Brissett shipped out of town, particularly after that impressive preseason game against the Giants, but it just didn’t make sense to keep him this year. If the Patriots are unable to work out a deal with Garoppolo, and the franchise tag proves too costly, this move could come back to hurt the team in the long run. There are so many ifs right now that few can fully comprehend outside of Bill Belichick’s inner circle.

Goodbye Austin Carr

Of all the players on the roster bubble, Austin Carr was the one I was pulling for the most (me and 50% of New England’s fan base). I don’t think Austin Carr is the second coming of Julian Edelman, but the kid showed tremendous talent and effort during the preseason for an undrafted rookie. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to work with Brady or against first-string defensive players, which makes it difficult to gauge his talent. The coaches are the ones who see the players perform each day in practice, and Belichick must not have seen enough to warrant keeping on a sixth wide receiver (not including Matthew Slater). While most pointed out the writing was on the wall with the Phillip Dorsett trade, Carr filled a different and valuable position at slot receiver that will now probably go to Danny Amendola as the starter. The Patriots are probably crossing their fingers that Carr somehow makes it through waivers so that he can be stashed on their practice squad (my gut feeling tells me it won’t happen given the barren wasteland at WR for teams like the Jets). Between Devin Lucian, Carr and Cody Hollister, the Patriots will be able to sign one of their preseason wide receivers to the practice squad.

**Update: Austin Carr was claimed by the Saints just prior to this article being published.

Brandon Bolden and James O’Shaughnessy

In retrospect, the Brandon Bolden cut was not as surprising as it should have been. The Patriots are as stacked at the running back position as they’ve been in the Brady era, and Bolden offered more of the same as a scat back that James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead do better. Bolden does offer value as a Special Teams player and may make a return to New England if he goes unclaimed by another team. Given the propensity for injuries and the uncertainty of newcomers Marquis Flowers and Johnson Bademosi, I would not be surprised to see Bolden back with the team in the latter half of the season.

James O’Shaughnessy was my biggest surprise cut. The 3rd year tight end looked competent in the passing game during preseason, and has greater size than Jacob Hollister. With Matt Lengel injured, I thought for sure the Pats would keep O’Shaughnessy as the third tight end. Instead, they took a chance with an undrafted rookie. It’s important to remember that the NFL is about developmental potential. While the Patriots made a lot of moves to acquire known-talent this offseason (first round pick for Brandin Cooks, signing David Harris, holding onto Jimmy Garoppolo), you never know what an exciting, young prospect may bring to your team. One of the greatest tight ends in league history, Antonio Gates, began his career as an undrafted rookie free agent. O’Shaughnessy looked like the better prospect in the limited time we saw him during preseason action, but Belichick must have felt otherwise.

**Update: Brandon Bolden was re-signed to the Patriots after Shea Mclellin went to IR.

About Mike LaVere

Student, author and aspiring surgeon. Former bar bouncer and meat butcher. Mike LaVere graduated from a top university with a degree in English and Creative Writing. After spending several years working in healthcare as a surgical technician and EMT, Mike returned to college to obtain a post-baccalaureate degree in Biochemistry before applying to medical school. In addition to providing help for new writers and pre-medical students, Mike writes about the current state of healthcare and how it can be improved. His mission in life is to improve the quality of patient care around the world by inspiring providers to be more passionate about their work and to take pride in caring for their patients.