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Patriots Release Dominique Easley, But Why?

New England released 2014 1st Round pick Dominique Easley, a player that had a lot of upside but also had many injuries that continuously cut his seasons short.

PUBLISHERS NOTE- PLEASE WELCOME DOUG MOORE TO PATRIOTS INSIDER. THIS IS HIS FIRST ARTICLE FOR THE SITE. 

Less than 24 hours ago, Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com reported on Twitter that Patriots defensive lineman Dominique Easley was being waived by the Patriots.

https://twitter.com/tomecurran/status/720335294646525953

This comes as a shock to a lot of people, specifically fans, because this is a move that came out of left field. Easley has dealt with injuries in his first two seasons, appearing in just 22 of a possible 36 regular season games. He also has finished both seasons on the IR; 2014 was another knee injury, and 2015 with a thigh injury. The knee injury as a rookie that landed him on the IR was not shocking, as he was still recovering from knee surgery he had in the spring when he tore his ACL. It was clear he was struggling to come back 100% from it, even though he did show flashes of his talent during the season.

He suffered the thigh injury against the Texans in Week 14, and the Patriots interior pass rush was clearly never the same. Easley showed flashes of his potential when healthy and seemed to be a player who could be another young and valuable defensive cog for the team. Even though he did seem healthy for a good part of the season (except for weeks two and three where he missed time with a hip injury), Easley was mostly on the field in sub-packages and his snaps were limited, as he had played 31% of the team’s defensive stats up until that point. This would mark his second consecutive season finishing on the IR, obviously not the ideal scenario for the Patriots and Easley.

Easley also dealt with injuries in college too, as he suffered two ACL tears (one in each knee) during his time at Florida, which includes the one he suffered right before he declared for the NFL Draft. So combining his college and professional career, Easley has now suffered three lower-body injuries (thigh and two knees) that ended the season he was in at the time. Injury problems could factor into why the team decided it was time to release Easley. It’s also worth noting that Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (via a source) tweeted out not too long ago that Easley’s knees are in “pretty bad shape”.

https://twitter.com/jeffphowe/status/720342596372078592

Pure speculation, but I’d have to think while there may be something more going on besides his health and how Easley is physically, that his injuries/rehab could definitely be a factor into him being waived. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Easley is currently involved in a lawsuit where a man is claiming Easley’s dog bit him and caused him injury.

https://twitter.com/AaronWilson_NFL/status/720344523696529409

While this may be relatively minor, as this is a civil lawsuit and not a criminal lawsuit (meaning he broke the law), this could definitely have rubbed some of the Patriots front office/coaching personnel the wrong way. Could something have been discovered in the course of his lawsuit that would upset the team enough to release him? Perhaps. But no matter what the case may be with this particular lawsuit, it’s definitely noteworthy.

Regardless, something has to give with this sudden and seemingly random release by the team. He actually costs more money for the Patriots to release than to keep on their roster ($2.9 million dead cap hit in 2016 if released, $1.9 million dollar cap hit if on roster). So essentially, the Patriots are paying more money to not have him on their team. The team is not dumb or foolish when it comes to managing the cap, so this is something else that is noteworthy and also alarming at the same time. Whether it is Easley’s knees, perhaps a new injury, an off-the-field issue, or something else, this will be very interesting to keep an eye on as the details that motivated this release are made known.

To add more fuel to the fire, Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager tweeted out that he is hearing the reasoning behind Easley’s release is more for “off-field reasons than on”.

https://twitter.com/PSchrags/status/720345507378413568

So it seems that there is not much agreement in the media as to why Easley was suddenly released by the team. There is a multitude of reasons that could be what led the Patriots to releasing Easley. Another thought to keep in mind is that the Patriots were already seen as needing defensive line help even before Easley’s release. The team lost Akiem Hicks to free agency and traded away Chandler Jones. The Patriots did sign Markus Kuhn, Terrance Knighton and Chris Long in free agency, along with picking up Alan Branch’s 2016 option. But with Rob Ninkovich (32), Alan Branch (31), Terrance Knighton (29), Markus Kuhn (29) and Chris Long (31) getting up there in age, defensive line is an area that would need to be addressed anyway. The team definitely has some young talent along the line with Malcom Brown (22), Jabaal Sheard (26), Geneo Grissom (23) and Trey Flowers (22), but it still needs more solidarity. Also, considering that Sheard, Ninkovich, Long, Branch, Knighton and Kuhn are all unrestricted free agents after the 2016 season, the Patriots are going to have to make some serious moves to help secure their long-term future along the defensive line, especially after Easley’s release.

There is no doubt that Easley flashed some serious talent when on the field (and able to stay healthy), which could lead to multiple teams putting a bid on him during the waiver period. A team like the Falcons, where their head coach, Dan Quinn, was coaching at the same school as Easley during his college years, could definitely be seen as a team to potentially claim him. The Seahawks are also a team to watch out for, as they traded out of the 1st round during the 2014 NFL Draft after New England selected Easley. They do have a need on their interior defensive line, so this could be another match to think about.

The Patriots decided to release Easley despite his flashes of great play when on the field and his relatively low cost as he was signed under his rookie deal still. They absorbed more a cap hit by releasing him and doing so when defensive line depth was a clear need for the team. The team’s reasoning behind this clearly must’ve been overwhelming to the point where they'd absorb all of the negatives of releasing him instead of potentially benefitting from his positives. There has to be an overwhelming reason(s) for this move, and if I had to speculate on it, we’re going to find out it was something to do off-field. The Patriots are seen as one of the more strict teams around the league when it comes to behavior, but considering the circumstances with Easley as mentioned above, this has to be something pretty significant.

There is a possibility this could be injury related, especially considering his injury history. But it doesn’t seem like the Patriots to release such a talented player at such a low cost for an injury related issue unless it were severe. NFL Network’s Albert Breer said that Easley is healthy, so this makes me less inclined to believe this is a health/physical reason. The timing is nonetheless surprising, which is another reason to think that this is off-the-field related. But regardless of what is the motivation behind this release, one thing is clear: Dominique Easley is no longer a New England Patriot.

Follow Doug @twitter.com/DMooreNFL


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