The Tough Cut

Making the choice to part ways with a player who can still play is never an easy decision, but the good organizations know it must be done. New England made some surprising cuts last weekend. Will it come back to haunt them?

One could never accuse New England of going through the motions with safe, easy decisions on cutdown weekend as the perennial Super Bowl contender honed its roster heading into the season opener against the Chiefs. Patriots players often talk about the fact that starting jobs and roster spots with the team are always written in pencil and never was that more true than on Labor Day Weekend 2008.

The first minor noteworthy item came at the 75-man cutdown Aug. 26, when the team parted ways with free agent cornerback addition Jason Webster. New England inked the veteran during the spring as part of its plan to help fill the void left by the departure of All-Pro playmaker Asante Samuel. But Webster struggled with injuries in training camp that severely limited his practice reps and, in the end, his opportunity to impress Bill Belichick enough to win a job.

Four days later, the team cut another spring veteran free agent cornerback addition -- projected starter Fernando Bryant. The former Jaguar and Lion had started all four preseason games and taken nearly all the reps opposite returning starter Ellis Hobbs with the first New England defense throughout training camp. But, surprisingly, when the 53-man roster limit was filled out Saturday, Bryant was not part of it.

The following morning, the New England cuts got even more interesting as the team released former second-round pick Chad Jackson and recently signed Pro Bowl safety John Lynch. Jackson has been plagued by injury and disappointment since the team traded up to take him with the 36th overall pick in 2006. He got plenty of reps in the preseason and was given every opportunity to win the No. 3 receiver job behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but as has been the case in the past struggled with his route running and ability to get on the same page as his quarterbacks.

The Lynch release made as many waves as any of the moves. The 15-year veteran and nine-time Pro Bowler had signed with New England after getting his release from the Broncos early this summer. He'd seen extended action in the Patriots' fourth preseason game and struggled with his speed, athleticism and tackling in his preseason action.

While Lynch looked every-bit his age of 36, the Patriots press release announcing the move seemed to leave the door open for the veteran to return at some point.

"It goes without saying but John is an all-time great safety, one of the league's classiest professionals and his elite play speaks for itself," Belichick said in the statement. "As has been the case in other situations, I would not rule anything out down the road."

With Lynch, Bryant and Webster getting their walking papers, the Patriots then made a veteran addition to the secondary by signing two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal Monday. The ninth-year veteran was released by the Bengals on Saturday after playing 16 games with eight starts for the team a year ago. He immediately becomes the most experienced member of a New England cornerback spot that includes Hobbs, draft picks Terrence Wheatley (second round) and Jonathan Wilhite (fourth round) and veteran Lewis Sanders. O'Neal could battle for playing time from Day 1 in New England, although as the moves of the weekend showed, any roles and spot with the team are always tenuous.

Even Belichick acknowledged the busy, notable weekend of transactions when he met with the media for the first time following all the moves as his team began preparations for the season opener against the Chiefs.

"Well, it has been a busy few days since we last got together. We had a lot of roster transactions. It is that time of year. I am sure there will be more before the week is over," Belichick said on Monday. "We are just trying to get our roster set relative to the practice squad and some other moving parts that are going on there with guys going on the injured list and so forth and so on. I think that is a little bit of a work in progress for us as I am sure it is for most of the other teams in the league as well, but in the mean time, more importantly, we are looking ahead to Kansas City."

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