In 2011 the New England Patriots were forced to use a tight end focused passing game due to a lack of depth at the receiver position. To remedy that problem, the Patriots signed several veterans this offseason. But with the final cuts on Friday, the team has shown that they will be using a similar plan again in 2012.
The Patriots were expected to carry six receivers into the 2012 regular season and return to a wide receiver oriented passing game. It looked as though they would add free agent signing Brandon Lloyd and either of the newly acquired Jabar Gaffney or Donte’ Stallworth to a receiving corps that already boasted veterans Wes Welker and Deion Branch. But the Patriots offensive look has changed with the final round of cuts having been made.
While either Gaffney or Stallworth was expected to be involved in the first round of cuts, on Monday the team made the surprising decision to cut both veteran receivers. After this decision, most felt that Branch’s spot on the team would be safe. However, the Patriots surprised everyone further by cutting Branch along with 2012 NFL Draft pick Jeremy Ebert leaving just four receivers on the active roster for the start of the season.
Because of the new receiver focused offense, the Patriots were expected to keep no more than three tight ends. In addition to star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the team kept both free agent signings Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe. This decision was further surprising because both players had spent part of the preseason out with injury.
Even though the New England Patriots had success with their 2011 system, keeping it in 2012 is a surprise. The team took quick and strong steps early this past offseason to upgrade significantly at the wide receiver position. But releasing Deion Branch and keeping four tight ends show that the Patriots offense will again be featuring their tight ends quite prominently.