By: Steve Balestrieri
Former Patriots Safety James Sanders. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
The New England Patriots trimmed 11 players off of the roster on Monday to get down to the mandated league limit of 80; however none was more surprising than James Sanders. Sanders, selected in the 4th round of the 2005 draft was given the bad news as he arrived for team meetings.
The other players handed walking papers were CB Jonathan Wilhite, long snapper Matt Katula, tight end Garrett Mills, defensive lineman Kade Weston, wide receiver Tyree Barnes, wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, kicker Chris Koepplin, defensive end Clay Nurse, offensive lineman Mark Wetterer and defensive back Malcolm Williams, a seventh-round pick this year.
Sanders the classy veteran that he is, chose not to speak much about himself other than say that he thought he could contribute but did have some nice things to say about much embattled safety Brandon Meriweather.
“He’s going to be fine,” Sanders said. “People are going to say what they want to say about him, about how he practices or whatever, but when the lights come on and it’s time to play, he always shows up. He always makes plays and plays big time for the Patriots organization.”
“It surprises me some of the comments people make about him,” Sanders added, “because I feel like he’s a great player. All he’s done is make plays. I’m 100 percent sure he’s going to continue to go out there and make plays and be a solid player for them.”
It was rumored that the Patriots tried to re-negotiate Sanders contract, he is on the cap for a $2.8 million dollar hit this season. When the two sides failed to come to an agreement, the Patriots let him go.
Sanders was never spectacular or flashy, just a calm, steadying influence in the backfield. One aspect of his game that will be most missed is his communication skills, which are superb. Pro Football Focus posted a breakdown of the Patriots coverage grades last season and Sanders topped the team’s list.
Now Brandon Meriweather is going to have to step up and not only play well, but handle all of the communication duties, something he’s not excelled at during his career to this point. The Patriots may be trying to push Meriweather into playing up to his potential in this, his final year of his contract.
With all of the talk surrounding Meriweather’s play and the team bringing in veteran free agents, the Patriots can’t be happy with the overall play of him. He has the potential to be superb and he does have two Pro-Bowl appearances, but it seems the coaches and Bill Belichick feel he has much more to offer. Speaking with Pats HOF LBer Steve Nelson about Meriweather a few weeks ago he said, “bad players don’t make two Pro-Bowls….period.”
With the safety net (no pun intended) of Sanders gone, Meriweather and Pat Chung will now have Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo and Josh Barrett as their back-up safeties. Barrett may be the guy they are counting on in the future, but he’s been injured and has just now gone back to practice. That is unless they make a move elsewhere.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was also released, another 4th round pick, this one in 2008, Wilhite was never able to play consistently enough or stay healthy long enough to make a difference in the Patriots secondary. With the team going after corners in each of the past three drafts, Wilhite’s release was hardly surprising.
So the Patriots have made their first cuts and while many weren’t surprising, Sanders being cut this early certainly is. While virtually no one on the roster is untouchable, he was seen on about everyone’s 53 man roster projection.
Now Meriweather will have to be the man in the secondary, the only question now is Will he be up to the task? Time will tell.