As expected, the release of Tebow is dominating the news of Patriots cuts today. However, some of the team's more surprising moves today will likely have a much bigger effect on the field.
Gone are Marcus Forston, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham. Of those four, only Cunningham was speculated to be in danger, as the others all projected into rotational roles on the line.
Forston is a particularly big surprise. After a spending last year on the practice squad, the big defensive tackle had a strong offseason and appeared to be in line for the role as the team's third defensive tackle behind Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork. Instead that role will be filled by Joe Vellano, a undrafted rookie from Maryland who quietly climbed the team's depth chart throughout the month.
Francis is another surprise cut. After making the team as an undrafted rookie last year, Francis steadily improved and earned snaps in subpackages throughout the season, flashing some real potential at the end of the year. He was expected to return to his role as an energetic nickle rusher this year.
Instead, the only defensive ends remaining behind starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan. Buchanan flashed some terrific disruptive ability in the teams final preseason game, likely solidifying his spot on the team, but who knows if the rookie is ready to play at the big level should injuries force him into action.
The same question is there for Bequette, a third round pick from last year whose play has been so quiet that some wondered if he was in danger of getting cute. Bequette also had a strong showing in Thursday night's preseason game, particularly in the run game, but he lacks the explosiveness to pose much of a pass rushing threat.
It's important to keep in mind that the Pats have what should be a very strong starting defensive line. All four starters are accomplished NFL guys with the ability to win one on one matchups, disrupt offenses and create turnovers. If Chandler Jones makes the expected second-year leap, it could be the strongest defensive line the team has had since its Seymour-Warren-Ted Washington heyday.
However, any injury whatsoever will push an unproven guy into action. It's a dicey proposition, especially considering that Buchanan is the only backup option that projects as a good pass rusher at the NFL level.
Keep in mind that today's big cut deadline means the free agent market is getting flooded with newly available players, both veterans and young guys. There is always a degree of roster shuffling even after the big cuts are made (think of the acquisition of Michael Hoomanawanui last year) and the team will have it's opportunities to bolster the depth of this group if it chooses.