When the final cuts were made shortly before the regular season started, the New England Patriots released veterans Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, and Donte’ Stallworth in favor of younger receivers Julian Edleman, Matthew Slater, and Greg Salas. With the Patriots as AFC favorites heading into the season, it seemed to be an odd choice to be going with so much youth in support of Tom Brady but the Patriots may have changed their minds.
In 2011 the Patriots one issue on offense was their receiving corps. They got virtually no production from six-time Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco relying mostly on their other star Wes Welker and tight ends. To remedy that problem, the team signed veteran Brandon Lloyd along with Gaffney and Stallworth. Releasing either Gaffney or Stallworth was expected but releasing both in addition to Branch was completely unexpected.
Shortly after releasing Branch, who was the MVP of the Patriots 2004 Super Bowl win, the team traded for Salas. Salas was a fourth round selection by the St. Louis Rams in 2011 and was acquired for a 2015 NFL Draft pick. But on Tuesday the Patriots turned around and rectified what they obviously feel was a mistake. They released the newly acquired Salas and re-signed Branch.
This isn’t the only surprise that has come from the Patriots this season. With the acquisitions made this offseason it looked as though the Patriots were going back to a receiver focused passing game rather than the tight end focused passing game of 2011. But when the final cuts were made the Patriots were clearly staying with the plan that had success a year ago. The team surprised everyone further by dramatically decreasing the snaps of their four-time Pro Bowl receiver Welker in week one before dropping him from the starting lineup in week two.
Tuesday’s move seems to have another plan change as well. With tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez being focal points of the offense, the team has been using primarily two receivers. But on Sunday Hernandez was injured which will see him miss significant time and this move seems to see the Patriots moving to using three receivers more often.
The Patriots made a surprising move just before the season started when they chose to go with youth over experience at wide receiver. But just two weeks into the season they seemed to have changed their minds. The signing of Deion Branch shows that the team now believes they will have more success by replacing at least one and possibly multiple young receivers in favor of veterans who have long experienced the grind of an NFL season. We’ll see where this ideological shift leads the Patriots when they take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday night.