COMMENTARY| The New England Patriots recently culled their roster to get within the league-mandated limit of 53 players in time for the start of the 2013 regular season. While many of the choices were undoubtedly tough ones, there are some players let go that the team may ultimately regret cutting.
Most teams struggle to get their final roster down to 53 at the end of preseason. The Patriots brought their squad all the way down to 51 players before making a flurry of additional signings and cuts to reach their limit.
There may be additional roster moves to come before the season opener on September 8 against the Buffalo Bills. Although the team has already moved on, they may come to regret cutting the following players:
Tight End Jake Ballard: After a stellar rookie season with the New York Giants in 2011, the massive 25-year-old spent all of last year on New England's injured reserve with a severe knee injury. Although he appeared in three preseason games this year, he was held without a reception.
A strong blocker, Ballard was still rounding into shape from his injury, but the Patriots obviously believed they couldn't wait any longer. His departure, along with that of fellow tight end Daniel Fells, leaves the team woefully thin at the position.
Star Rob Gronkowski is still recovering from offseason surgeries. The only other two tight ends remaining are undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld and veteran Michael Hoomanawanui, who has just 25 career catches.
Having already invested a year into Ballard, it was a little surprising the team didn't choose to keep him around. He could be missed almost immediately, especially if Gronkowski doesn't come back quickly.
Punter Zoltan Mesko: The fourth-year left-footed punter was cut in a move that was purely financial. He was due to make over $1 million this year while becoming a free agent after the season. Meanwhile, his replacement, undrafted rookie Ryan Allen, will make the league minimum.
Allen was a two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the best punter in college football. His big leg (44.9 yards-per-punt career average at Louisiana Tech) should help him replace the 44.2 yards-per-punt average Mesko had during the past three years. However, he's sure to go through the growing pains experienced by all young players, and will be hard-pressed to match his predecessor's talent at directional kicking and dropping punts inside the 20-yard line (71 of his 175 career punts).
Off the field, Mesko was a popular figure in the Boston community, as detailed by The Wallstreet Journal's John U. Bacon. He was also heavily involved in charitable work and served as an exemplary representative of the team.
In typical fashion he was classy until the end, issuing a heartfelt statement of thanks to the organization and fans through his Facebook page. While he may ultimately be replaceable on the field, his overall impact will likely be sorely missed.
Defensive End Marcus Benard: For a team that has looked for pass-rushing help over the past several years, the 28-year-old appeared to be a great budget pickup this past offseason.
An undrafted free agent out of Jackson State, Benard spent his first three years in the league with the Cleveland Browns, posting 12 sacks in 25 games.
He missed most of 2011 and all of 2012 following suffering an elbow injury in a motorcycle accident. However, he looked to have regained his ability to get to the quarterback, as he was able to apply consistent pressure and recorded two sacks this preseason.
The 260-pounder is not effective against the run, so his lack of versatility and his lack of size to be an effective sub playing in the middle were likely factors in his departure. Even so, his ability to put quarterbacks on the ground is something the Patriots have been seeking, and they may regret letting him slip through their fingers.
Conclusion: When it comes to finalizing a roster, the decisions can be excruciating, as the team must piece its different positional needs together like a puzzle. The Patriots believe they have made the best moves possible to start the season, but may come to regret some of the players they had to let go to make their team work in time for their first game of the season.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
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