New England's tight schedule of three preseason games in 10 days has had an interesting effect on roster cuts.
Bill Belichick explained Thursday on his conference call.
"When you're playing once a week then you have a chance to practice everybody and play everybody in different increments during that game. The advantage of that is you get to see those players -- let's just say you did it in all three games -- in three different schemes, three different types of match ups with the other team, where we played kind of a split squad thing in the last three weeks. Probably the amount of plays is about the same, close to the same, but it was more segmented.
"I think overall it worked out to about the same number of plays, but you just didn't see some guys against Philadelphia and you didn't see some guys against Tampa, and you didn't see some guys against the Giants just compared to last year's preseason games. Practice-wise, some of the same things."
If having an extra day between preseason Game 4 and Friday's 9 PM cutdown deadline has any impact on the decision making, Belichick said it's "marginal." The coaches have been aware of date for months and have been evaluating accordingly.
Though there's a lot to think about.
"When you get to a certain point of your roster you look at whatever the number is, say 46, those are the guys that are going to go to the game, those are the guys that are going to play. Probably in that group you have a couple of players that may be injured, so to start the season maybe they wouldn't be able to play, but eventually you think they will be healthy and able to play.
"Maybe it's 50 players. Somewhere over 46 and somewhere less than 53, whatever that number is. Then you have basically depth and insurance for your team. So, you can have a player on your team that is on the 53 man roster, but he's not going to play on the team until you get to the 46, and then whatever the criteria that would get him to the 46 man roster-- is it special teams, is it injury, is it development of him because if it was just inexperience, do you feel like he could potentially grow into that role -- and then you need players on the practice squad, whoever they are."
Belichick pointed to OL Nick McDonald, who was picked up last September after being released by Green Bay, and Dolphins waiver Matt Kopa as depth players who joined the team from other sources. The value of such practice squad players is high because they're in the meetings and learning the system just like everybody else.
"You've seen them be activated as late as Saturday afternoon for a Sunday game," said Belichick. "It comes down to a question of where you want to carry your depth, in terms of what it costs -- what it costs financially, what it costs in terms of opportunity. You keep a person for depth here, does that leave you shorthanded somewhere else? Of course it does. So which players can you control? Well, you can control the ones on the 53, you can control the ones on the practice squad, not totally, but to some degree."
Not knowing what the team will need, or when the team will need it, is the very basis of what makes cuts so complicated. But maintaining some semblance of control is huge.
Take quarterbacks for example. In the past, the Patriots have kept as few as two. This season they will likely keep three in Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett.
Could there be any conceivable reason to hang onto four? In 2000, there was.
"Kind of a unique situation, we had really two third quarterbacks between Brady and Michael Bishop. One of them could have been on the practice squad. In any case, we could have carried one of those guys on the practice squad, but, again we had 53 players and if you're going to have the inactive group anyway . It really doesn't matter whether the guy is on the practice squad or the 53 man roster -- if he's inactive, he's not going to play in the game.
"So then the question is, as an organization, which players do you want to protect? You can protect the ones on the 53, to some degree you can't protect the ones on the practice squad. In that particular case, that's why we didn't put Brady on the practice squad -- we wanted to make sure we had him, not so much for that year, but for the following year."
Turns out that was a wise move.
Belichick is hoping his judgment is similarly sound this week. There's just no way to know until the Patriots, and every other team in the league, is knee-deep in the season.
"There are a lot of considerations that come into play. We'd like to keep more than 53. We keep 61 when you add the practice squad. There's other players we'd like to keep working with, but we're just not going to be able to do that. We have to decide, what do we do that's best for the team?"