Every year, as NFL teams work to get down to the league-mandated 53-man roster, there are a few surprise names that pop up. We're still early in the process, and teams have until 9 p.m. ET Friday to make their moves, but the New England Patriots' release of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer will certainly go down as one of this season's biggest surprises.
Hoyer, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, has been with the Pats since 2009. He has completed 27 passes in 43 attempts for 286 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his NFL career. The Patriots have been high on Hoyer in recent years, but drafted Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. Mallett and Hoyer had similar -- and relatively unimpressive -- stats through the 2012 preseason, and it may have been a matter of keeping the guy they drafted. Hoyer has good tools and might be crafted into a reasonable backup or spot starter in the right environment.
The Patriots also cut two players with much more experience -- receiver Deion Branch and center Dan Koppen. Branch, who played with the Patriots from 2002 through 2005 and again in 2010 and 2011 after a stint as a high-priced bust in Seattle, was one of Tom Brady's favorite targets for a number of years. And Koppen started 120 games in a Patriots career that spans back to 2003.
The Washington Redskins surprised a few people by cutting running back Tim Hightower, who was competing in a crowded backfield. The New York Giants cut linebacker Greg Jones, their 2011 sixth-round pick and starter to begin last season. They also cut veteran defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who was unhappy that he was misidentified in Madden '13 -- at least he won't have to worry about that anymore. Running back D.J. Ware, who was on both Super Bowl Giants teams, also got the boot.
Safety O.J. Atogwe, who played for the St. Louis Rams from 2005 through 2010 and the Washington Redskins in 2011, was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Atogwe has had at least two interceptions in each of the last four years, five picks in 2008, and eight in 2007.
Speaking of the Rams, they cut former New York Jets draft bust Vernon Gholston, which is only newsworthy in that someone took Gholston sixth overall in the 2008 NFL draft. The Ohio State alum has never recorded a sack in four NFL seasons and five starts.
The Arizona Cardinals dropped tight end Steve Skelton, brother of new starting quarterback John. Steve caught 63 passes from John at Fordham in 2009, but on the same day that his brother got the news that he'd be the Cardinals' Week 1 starter, Steve got the boot.
The Cleveland Browns released longtime backup Seneca Wallace, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft by current Browns head man when Holmgren was Seattle's general manager. This most likely means that Colt McCoy will stick on the Browns' roster, despite the best efforts of everyone in the building to push him out the door.
The New York Jets cut the "other" Robert Griffin from Baylor -- the sixth-round guard from Baylor blocked for RGIII in college in 2010 and 2011.
The Dallas Cowboys released defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a fourth-round pick in 2010, while the Demver Broncos cut Drayton Florence, who had three interceptions in 16 starts for the Buffalo Bills in 2011.
The Detroit Lions cut defensive end Everette Brown, drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Carolina Panthers. We'll say it again: Cam Newton saved Panthers GM Marty Hurney's job in ways we can't sufficiently explain.
The Houston Texans cut receiver Juaquin Iglesias, Sam Bradford's main target at Oklahoma. Iglesias was selected in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Chicago Bears, wound up with the Vikings after landing on Chicago's practice squad, and was first worked out by Houston last September. The Texans also released quarterback Case Keenum, who was the most productive signal-caller in NCAA history for the Houston Cougars. Keenum is just the latest on the "Buyer Beware" list when it comes to the NFL futures of ability-impaired quarterbacks in greased-up college offenses.
The New Orleans Saints released kicker John Kasay, who made 11 of 11 field goals for the team in 2011. The health of starter Garrett Hartley made that move necessary, and Kasay's NFL career -- which began in 1991 -- might be at an end, unless someone needs a kicker mid-season.
The Philadelphia Eagles released quarterback Mike Kafka, once an Andy Reid favorite.
And finally, the Baltimore Ravens released nose tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, which we're just mentioning so that he can find a place on every NFL All-Time All-Name Team from here on out.