All four were longer shots for a roster spot, with Moe the most highly touted.
Grissom and Moe spent last year on injured reserve, while Reed and McGuffie ended the year on the team's practice squad.
In addition, offensive linemen Brice Schwab and Elvis Fisher, and running back Quentin Hines were waived, per the NFL's transactions wire. Fisher and Hines were waived with a failed physical designation.
These types of "housecleaning" moves are commonplace at this time on the NFL calendar, as the 2014 league year officially begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
From this amateur scouting chair, I like the fit and here's why:
2. Need more than one "passing" back: When Vereen was sidelined for half of the 2013 regular-season with a wrist injury, the Patriots turned to 220-pound Brandon Bolden as his replacement in the “passing” back role. In doing so, it was a little bit of a square peg in the round hole -- while Bolden catches the ball fairly well and isn't afraid to stick his head in there as a pass-protector, he's not as elusive as many teams would desire in that role. Because of how often the Patriots spread things out, the “passing” back is really no different than the traditional early-down running back in terms of playing time in their scheme. It makes sense to have multiple players who can fill that void.
3. Expounding upon the idea of creating matchup advantages: One of the reasons Williamson cited for the Patriots being a good fit with Sproles was the team's knack for creating advantageous matchups, and how Sproles' skill set could be maximized in their scheme. In 2011 and 2012, a big part of the Patriots' ability to create favorable matchups was tied to the tight end position because of the unique talents of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. As we saw in 2013, when there is no Gronkowski and Hernandez, that dynamic is much harder to come by. Ideally, the Patriots will capture that magic once again, but tight end is a challenging position to find those types of players, so why not try it at running back? A Vereen-Sproles combination, for example, could lead to a lot of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators in a different way.
4. Layering the running back position: With Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Bolden all entering the final year of their contracts, a multi-year deal for a player like Sproles, assuming the financial numbers work, layers the depth chart in the future as well.
The move comes as a mild surprise because the Patriots guaranteed Moe $30,000 last year as part of a three-year contract, which was the highest guaranteed figure among the team's undrafted players. Moe had offers and interest from six other teams, according to Brei.
Given Moe's production at Missouri, and the Patriots' success with shifty slot receivers, Moe was viewed as a potential dark horse to make an impact. But he tore his Achilles in offseason camps last May and ultimately landed on season-ending injured reserve.
In making the move to release Moe, Brei said the Patriots told him they were simply moving in another direction, but considered the door open for a return in the future depending on how things unfold.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The signing was reported earlier Monday by Yahoo! Sports.
Hoomanawanui, 25, played in 13 games for the Patriots last season, stepping into a larger role with Rob Gronkowski dealing with multiple injury issues. He caught 12 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Hoomanawanui originally was signed by the Patriots during the 2012 season off the Washington Redskins' practice squad. He entered restricted free agency last offseason and was eventually re-signed by New England.
The Illinois product gives New England some insurance for Gronkowski, who continues to rehab from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
The Patriots are likely to continue to address the position this offseason, with only D.J. Williams on the roster besides Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui.
ESPN Insider Field Yates confirmed earlier reports from Yahoo! Sports and Fox Sports that Hoomanawanui is re-signing with the Patriots for two seasons.
Hoomanawanui played 57.6 percent of the offensive snaps in 2013, most among New England tight ends, as he emerged as the top replacement for Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski currently recovering from a torn ACL, and lingering questions over his durability after a string of injuries, Hoomanawanui is a dependable, team-first, lower-budget layer of insurance.
Hoomanawanui has said it himself -- he’s no Gronkowski. Few are.
While not as dynamic in the passing game in terms of creating separation and pure speed, Hoomanwanui does have solid hands and can make the tough catch (12 receptions in 2013). His greatest contributions last year, when he won a training camp competition against Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells, came as a blocker.
The Patriots now have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams under contract at the tight end position. The team likely isn’t done addressing the position.
With the free-agent signing period opening Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's our AFC East free-agent ranking:
2. Aqib Talib, Patriots CB: Matchup man-to-man cornerback was a centerpiece in the Patriots' game plans in 2013, with injuries the only real blemish on his resume.
3. Julian Edelman, Patriots WR: Coming off a career-high 105-catch season -- staying healthy for all 16 games for the first time -- the receiver is poised to cash in.
4. Austin Howard, Jets T: An ascending player who would generate significant interest if he hits the open market.
5. Paul Soliai, Dolphins DT: He is one of the top run-stuffers on the market. Soliai can fit in the middle of a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, which adds value.
6. Scott Chandler, Bills TE: A 6-foot-7 tight end who posted career highs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) but was a non-factor in the red zone.
7. Randy Starks, Dolphins DT: The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Starks in 2013 but only used him as a rotational player. A change of scenery is probably best for him.
8. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots RB: The 250-pound running back was tough to bring down once he got rolling late last season; deserving of an upgraded contract.
9. Ryan Wendell, Patriots C: Undersized center has the smarts and durability that could appeal to a team looking to fill a void in the pivot, but sometimes gets overpowered.
11. Calvin Pace, Jets LB: Recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, but there will be a limited market because he'll be 34.
12. Chris Clemons, Dolphins S: He's a decent safety with plenty of starting experience. Clemons is strong in run support and a sure tackler, but he struggles at times in pass coverage.
13. Nick Folk, Jets K: Designated as a franchise player.
14. Dan Carpenter, Bills K: Kicker is coming off his best season as a pro, converting 91.7 percent of his field goals, including every kick in the second quarter or later.
15. Alex Carrington, Bills DL: Versatile lineman can play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4; started first three games in 2013 before an injury ended his season.
1. Patriots among solid fits for Sproles. Matt Williamson of ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. lists the teams he views as the best fit for free-agent running back Darren Sproles, and the Patriots are on the list. Williamson explains his thinking, noting that while the Patriots have Shane Vereen as their "passing" back, a player like Sproles would further create matchup issues for defenses.
2. GM for a Day -- Talib the key. Mike Tanier of "Sports on Earth" continues the "GM for a Day" series with a detailed agenda for the Patriots. It starts with cornerback Aqib Talib and locking him up with a Brent Grimes type of deal.
3. Checking in with Patriots CB Ryan. Erik Frenz, who writes the "Going Deep" blog on Boston.com, hustled to Tufts University on Sunday to catch up with Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who said he's following "SportsCenter" like everyone else to see what happens with Talib.
4. Talib, Edelman, Mallett in the MMQB. Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" on TheMMQB.com includes a variety of free-agent thoughts, and it touches the Patriots in the form of Talib, receiver Julian Edelman (Cleveland a good landing spot?) and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Players under contract for 2014: Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Justin Green
Level of need: Moderate-to-high
Projected top targets: Nolan Carroll (Dolphins), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos), Aqib Talib (Patriots)
Why Carroll fits: Good size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), the right age (27) and has experience (26 career starts in 4 years). The Patriots know him well from facing him twice a season. He isn’t a No. 1 corner, but could vie for a starting role in the event Talib isn’t back, and will likely command much less financially.
Why Rodgers-Cromartie fits: Has solid man cover skills and the ability to match up in a similar way as Talib, although he isn’t as strong/willing against the run.
Why Talib fits: The Patriots have worked with him since November of 2012, he knows the system, game-plans have been partially built around his ability to match up with various types of receivers, and he added a lot to the team both in the meeting room and on the field. His return is a top priority; it’s just a matter of if the market increases to a point that the Patriots, with some concern over Talib’s injury history, aren’t comfortable going.
Other names of note: Tarell Brown (49ers), Brandon Browner (Seahawks), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Chris Cook (Vikings), Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Vontae Davis (Colts), Corey Graham (Ravens), Jabari Greer (Saints), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), Asante Samuel (Falcons), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Charles Tillman (Bears), Alterraun Verner (Titans)
Franchise tag: none
Market conditions: This is a strong class in free agency, especially at the top. In the draft, analysts believe teams will find quality into the middle rounds.
Questions to answer at the position: If Aqib Talib isn’t back, how do the Patriots fill the void at the top of the depth chart? How much will Alfonzo Dennard’s offseason be affected by his time in jail? Can Logan Ryan build off his rookie season into a permanent starting role?
Position: Inside/middle linebacker (off the line)
Players under contract for 2014: Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Chris White, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White, Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor Reed
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Projected top targets: Dane Fletcher (Patriots), Ramon Humber (Saints), Dekoda Watson (Buccaneers).
Why Fletcher fits: He has spent the first four years of his career with the Patriots, making the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker/special teamer. He led the Patriots in special teams tackles last season with 15.
Why Humber fits: Similar to Fletcher, he was a solid special teams performer for the Saints in 2013, recovering two onside kicks and totaling six solo tackles in the kicking game.
Why Watson fits: One of the Buccaneers’ best special teams players, he’d project as a core member of the kicking game while providing depth on defense.
Other names of note: Jon Beason (Giants), Karlos Dansby (Cardinals), Stephen Nicholas (Falcons), Daryl Smith (Ravens), Brandon Spikes (Patriots), Jonathan Vilma (Saints), Wesley Woodyard (Broncos).
Franchise tag: None.
Market conditions: The most likely avenue to find a potential three-down linebacker is through the draft. There are a few starting-caliber options in free agency who wouldn’t project to help on special teams, which will limit their value to some.
Questions to answer at the position: Is Jamie Collins ready for a prominent three-down role? How is Jerod Mayo’s recovery from a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last October? Who replaces the hard-hitting edge brought by Brandon Spikes? Will Dont’a Hightower take another step forward in his development?
2. Talib and the Redskins: Comprehensive thoughts here from ESPN.com NFL Nation Redskins reporter John Keim on the Redskins’ interest in Talib.
3. Cornerback market as it relates to Talib: Big bucks have been dished out to free-agent cornerbacks Brent Grimes in Miami (4 years, $32 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Sam Shields in Green Bay (4 years, $39 million, $12.5 million signing bonus), which reflects a significant uptick in the market at the position compared to 2013. I think it’s fair to say those pacts strengthen Talib’s negotiating position, while at the same time putting more pressure on agents for top cornerbacks like Talib, Vontae Davis and Alterraun Verner to deliver a similar/better deal when their current teams might be offering less. One thing about the deals for Grimes and Shields -- they were handed out by their current team, not a team that wasn't as familiar with them.
4. Griffen and Bryant off the board: Two “projected targets” in our “free-agent fit” series -- defensive tackle Red Bryant (Jaguars) and defensive end Everson Griffen (Vikings) -- have reportedly reached agreements. Griffen reportedly received $20 million in bonuses/guarantees, which reflects his status as a rising player, and if I knew the market would be that high I wouldn’t have made the connection to the Patriots.
5. Mallett's status in the spotlight: The Texans have reportedly talked about the possibility of trading for Ryan Mallett, but those talks aren’t expected to turn into any action, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014. McClain details some of the quarterback options for the Texans, and we would add our own spin on it: If Oakland truly is interested in Matt Schaub, how about a straight-up trade of Schaub for Matt McGloin? Could be a win-win scenario, as Oakland gets a veteran quarterback who might best help win games in 2014 as Dennis Allen (head coach) and Reggie McKenzie (general manager) are on the hot seat, while O'Brien gets a quarterback he worked with at Penn State and knows well to serve as a bridge until the Texans, in Year 1 of the building process, figure out the best long-term answer (assuming it isn't McGloin himself).
1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes confirmed the obvious on Friday, stating it would be best for him and the Patriots to have a fresh start by making a split. That had me thinking back to Spikes’ rookie season, and the initial days of training camp, when Bill Belichick was expressing excitement about Spikes. Some of the soundbites:
“He sees some things that I’m not sure everybody sees.”
“I’m not really sure what his style is … It’s kind of not by the book but [it’s] effective.”
“I think he’s got some unique skills.”
“He’s an interesting player to coach.”
Many of us in the media, including myself, made a fairly big deal over Belichick’s remarks that day because they were a bit different from what we have traditionally heard from Belichick about rookies. Looking back, the remarks were spot-on and sum up Spikes in a nutshell: He was unconventional and certainly couldn’t be placed in a box. He was a fun player to watch, and ultimately for Belichick, I think a little too unconventional for his liking.
3. The way I envision things unfolding with cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman is that they will use the “legal tampering period” from March 8-11 to see what is available to them on the open market, and then those offers will then be compared to what the Patriots have in mind. Dialogue has remained open-ended between the sides to this point. All things being equal financially, I think both players would like to stay, which the Patriots surely hope is the way it unfolds. But the market will dictate and because the Patriots don’t usually budge too far based on an offer from another team, anything is possible.
4. If you’re the offensively challenged Jets, would you make a run at Edelman? Similar to last year with the Broncos signing Wes Welker, there are multi-layered benefits to making such a move – you improve your own offense while hurting one of your primary competitors.
5. With quarterback Matt Cassel agreeing to terms on a two-year contract to return to the Minnesota Vikings, it opens up the possibility the Patriots might face Cassel for the first time since trading him in 2009. A Cassel-Tom Brady duel would have first taken place in 2011 when the Chiefs visited town, but Cassel was sidelined with a hand injury at the time and gave way to Tyler Palko in what turned out to be a dud of a "Monday Night Football" game. The Patriots visit the Vikings in 2014, and in a game that doesn’t have the same initial appeal as some others on the schedule, the Cassel-Brady angle adds some spice.
6. This week’s reminder that the NFL draft can be so tough to project comes in the form of Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is widely viewed as one of the top free agents set to hit the market. Byrd has turned out to be the best safety from the 2009 draft (he was a corner at Oregon who entered the draft after his junior season), even though he was the fourth player selected at the position that year (a groin injury at the combine might have played a factor in his stock falling). The breakdown of the safeties selected in the first two rounds looked like this: Malcolm Jenkins (14th, corner-turned-safety), Louis Delmas (33rd) Patrick Chung (34th), Byrd (42nd), Mike Mitchell (47th) Darcel McBath (48th) and William Moore (55th). Byrd’s emergence particularly stings from a Patriots perspective because they had three cracks at him and ended up with Chung, defensive lineman Ron Brace (40th) and cornerback Darius Butler (41st).
7a. The Colts signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year extension on Friday and he told reporters that he’s also expressed an interest in a dual role as the team’s kicker if Adam Vinatieri, who is set for free agency, doesn’t return to the team. McAfee has already handled the kickoff duties in place of Vinatieri in recent years and the Indianapolis Star reported that talks between the team and Vinatieri have been slow. Is a dual punter-kicker a viable option? It would save a valuable roster spot, but the concern would be overworking one leg with two important jobs.
8. The cornerback market in free agency is off to a strong strong start for players, with Miami's Brent Grimes (4 years, $32 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Green Bay's Sam Shields (reportedly 4 years, $39 million, $12.5 million signing bonus) landing deals. Makes my pre-free-agent projection for Talib of 3 years, $21 million with $12-14 million in bonuses/guarantees seem a bit low based on the way the market has taken shape. If another team is willing to pay Talib like the Dolphins did with Grimes and the Packers did with Shields, I have doubts the Patriots would match.
9. Two random draft thoughts that came to mind while continuing an offseason study on depth charts, power structure and season-ending news conferences: If the Texans pass on a quarterback at No. 1, and the Raiders select one at No. 5, I wonder if that might open the door for the Texans to acquire quarterback Matt McGloin (Penn State) and reunite him with Bill O’Brien. Raiders coach Dennis Allen pretty much made it clear that the organization doesn’t view McGloin or Terrelle Pryor as the long-term answer. Maybe O'Brien would value McGloin differently at this stage of the Texans' team-building process. … Jaguars general manager David Caldwell was the Falcons’ director of college scouting in 2008 when Atlanta hoped Matt Ryan would fall to the No. 3 pick despite having a quarterback-needy team ahead of them at No. 1 (Miami) and then the Rams at No. 2. The top of the 2014 draft has a similar feel for Caldwell, as the Jaguars sit at No. 3, while the quarterback-needy Texans are at No. 1, followed by the Rams. Could Teddy Bridgewater be to the Jaguars what Ryan has been for the Falcons?
10. When the Patriots lost then-starting center Dan Koppen to a season-ending ankle injury in the 2011 opener, the first in-house choice to fill the void was Dan Connolly, who started 14 games in the pivot that year (including playoffs). The next offseason, the Patriots valued his performance enough to give him a three-year, $9.7 million contract as a free agent. Then in 2012, when veteran Brian Waters didn’t report to training camp, Connolly was moved to the right guard position which has been his permanent home since. I’ve wondered if a switch back to center might be in the offing for Connolly, in part because center Ryan Wendell is an unrestricted free agent and the Patriots have Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline as possibilities at right guard. Some have opined that Connolly’s $3 million salary might be too rich for the Patriots’ liking, but if a move to center strengthens the Patriots in two areas, does it then represent better value?
Players under contract for 2014: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Projected top targets: Colt McCoy (49ers), Brady Quinn (Rams), Rusty Smith (Titans)
Why McCoy fits: He previously played under current Patriots assistant Brian Daboll in Cleveland (2010), and thus has a background in a Patriots-type offense. He would add an experienced third option (21 career starts) behind the two signal-callers entrenched in the top spots on the depth chart.
Why Quinn fits: Similar to McCoy, he has experience in a Patriots-type system from having been on a Brian Daboll-coordinated unit in Cleveland (2009) and Kansas City (2012), and a Josh McDaniels-coached team in Denver (2010). If the Patriots are considering the addition of a third quarterback, it makes sense to look toward a player coaches are familiar with.
Why Smith fits: More of a developmental option, Smith (1 career start) spent the last four years with the Titans, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, he has a solid physical makeup and was looked at closely in the pre-draft process by the Patriots.
Other names of note: Derek Anderson (Panthers), Jimmy Clausen (Panthers), Kellen Clemens (Rams), Matt Flynn (Packers), Josh Freeman (Vikings), Rex Grossman (Redskins), Shaun Hill (Lions), Tarvaris Jackson (Seahawks), Josh McCown (Bears), Luke McCown (Saints), Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers), Curtis Painter (Giants), Michael Vick (Eagles), Seneca Wallace (Packers), Charlie Whitehurst (Chargers)
Franchise tag: none
Market conditions: A top backup quarterback is commanding about $4 million per season, as reflected by the agreement between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chad Henne. That is also around the range that Matt Cassel landed in his two-year deal with the Vikings. The Patriots would be looking at more of a cheaper, No. 3 alternative.
Questions to answer at the position: Will Brady show any signs of decline? Might there be any type of trade market for Mallett, who enters the final year of his contract? Will the Patriots draft a prospect, similar to what they did with Mallett in 2011?
Left hanging in the balance is one mammoth question: If an agreement can't be reached, would the Patriots really consider cutting Wilfork?
It's hard to believe the Patriots would do so given everything Wilfork has meant to the franchise on and off the field, but the simple fact they've approached him about the contract puts the possibility in play -- unless it's just one 325-pound-sized bluff.
Wilfork is due to earn $7.5 million in base salary in 2014, the final year of his deal. His salary-cap charge is a hefty $11.6 million. He turns 33 in November and is coming off a torn Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season after four games.
Effective at 12 p.m. Saturday, the NFL opens what has become commonly known as a "legal tampering window." While teams cannot execute a contract with a free agent (other than their own free agents) until Tuesday at 4 p.m., they can contact the agents of pending unrestricted free agents of other teams.
This allows teams to begin their pursuit of players that they believe could add value to their roster, while it allows the agents for players to assess the market that they are expected to have come the start of the new league year.
To be clear, teams cannot speak directly with players from other teams (so while the Patriots could speak with Julian Edelman, they would not be able to, for example, speak directly to Eric Decker). Linebacker Jon Beason has opted to represent himself this offseason, meaning he will be unable to participate in the legal tampering window.
This nearly four-day period was first implemented last offseason. It gives players a glimpse into their market before the market can technically take shape, while also giving teams a head start on their potential signings.
A year ago, Wes Welker used this window to see what else was out there for the Patriots. It was believed that he and his agent were looking for a deal longer than two years and with more guaranteed money than he wound up receiving. As it turned out, Welker's market was not nearly as robust as his representation supposed it would be, as his deal with Denver maxes out at $12 million over two years.
For players like Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib, this is an opportunity to weigh any potential offers they have received from the Patriots against offers other teams are willing to make on the open market.
Chris P (Toledo): I'm happy with our offensive line, but feel a quality center is really the boost Tom Brady would need. Less pressure = more time for receivers to get open. I don't know if a starter could be had in the draft this year. Any thoughts on a FA center?
Chris, outside of Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack (transition tag), one free-agent of note is Evan Dietrich-Smith of the Green Bay Packers. One question to ask would be, "How much of an upgrade would Dietrich-Smith be over moving Dan Connolly back to center, and possibly inserting Marcus Cannon/Josh Kline at right guard. Sometimes the solutions are in-house. Connolly has played a solid center position in the past.
Daniel (Fresno, CA): I'd rather have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at this point. He may not be as good as Aqib Talib (when healthy), but he's on the field when needed. Also sounds like he'd come cheaper. Your thoughts?
Daniel, all things being equal contract-wise, I'd lean heavier toward Talib. Just think he's a better player. But if the terms for Talib reach a level that doesn't work for the Patriots, I don't think Rodgers-Cromartie is a bad fallback option at a cheaper rate/shorter term if that's what the market dictates. One concern I'd have about going long-term/big-money with Rodgers-Cromartie is that as a team you don't have any background/much certainty with him on how he approaches his craft, how he'd fit in the locker room etc. It's a little riskier to me in that regard.
Daniel (Fresno, CA): Do you see Julian Edelman staying? I think he has to... can't take Wes Welker away one year and then Edelman the next. Brady needs his go-to guy to stick around for once.
Daniel, I do believe the Patriots will make a bid to retain Edelman. They want him back, but like most every negotiation, it comes down to "at what cost?" As I understand it, Edelman wanted the opportunity to see what offers were out there, which he can do in the three days leading up to the start of free agency. Then he can compare those offers to what the Patriots have in mind. That's where we are right now.
Dominic (Broomfield, CO): Mike, I love Vince Wilfork, I do. But your logic is odd. You say don't release him because he's everything the team embodies. Then you say 2009 lacked leadership because Wilfork (who was supposed to be a leader) wasn't and it showed his frustration openly by having the sign in his locker ...
Dominic, I understand the confusion as I didn't go deep enough into the discussion as it relates to 2009. This was a hot-button topic in our chats and mailbags in '09/'10 as I shared my opinion that part of the reason the '09 locker room wasn't in a great place was because the person who was supposed to be leading (Wilfork) wasn't put in the best position to do so because he was at odds with management over his contract. Some might counter and say, "A real leader would put that to the side and lead anyway." Fair enough, but that's easier for some people to do than others and Wilfork, in my opinion, isn't wired that way. Thus, when factoring in that human element, I thought the team miscalculated in that area that year. As we spin it forward, if you take Wilfork out of the locker room this year or he's not happy about a reworked contract, I have wondered if the Patriots might be creating the same type of '09 situation. But as I think it through, they have more established leaders in the room in 2014 (Mayo, McCourty) than they probably did in 2009, so maybe it wouldn't be as much of an issue. I hope that clears it up.