Its that time of year again. Final cuts for NFL rosters will happen over the course of the next week. For most players, they know where they stand on their teams, and expect to either play week 1. Most of those left out will be rookies or 1st and 2nd year players, perhaps missing out on their last shot at an NFL dream. Mixed in among those rookies are veterans looking for a last chance. Some of the all-time greats of the game have found themselves thrown out with the trash after preseason game number 4 over the years. Now, nobody loves a reclamation project quite like Bill Belichick, so here’s a look at some of the NFL’s greats that left the game after failing to meet the hoody’s expectations.
For the record, these are players who finished their careers with the Patriots without playing in a regular season game. Some were cut, others retired realizing they wouldn’t make the team, but none made it to week 1, and never put pads on again in the NFL. Chad Ochocinco and Steven Jackson, while unmitigated disasters, don’t count. It’s more about guys like Andrew Hawkins, who was a Patriot for about a week this spring. Non-Patriots examples would be Jerry Rice with the Broncos or Terrell Owens with the Seahawks (if you even remember those were a thing). And since we’re talking about some of the great wide receivers to ever play the game, lets start with…
Torry Holt (2010)
Holt spent his first decade in the league as an absolute force, a cornerstone of ‘The Greatest Show On Turf’. In 10 years with the Rams, he racked up over 10,000 yards and 74 touchdowns, to go along with a Super Bowl ring. In 2009, he signed a 3 year, $20 million contract with Jacksonville, and put together a 50 catch season, although he failed to find the endzone. Cut by the Jags just one year into the 3 year deal, Belichick decided to kick the tires and bring Holt into camp. Holt was impressive in the first days of camp, both as a pass-catcher leader, but tweaked his knee in practice, leading to him being placed on IR, then outright released. After two years out of the game, he officially retired in April of 2012.
Reggie Wayne (2015)
Boy, this one must have killed Colts fans. At one point, Wayne was one half of perhaps the most dangerous receiver duo in the league, opposite Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis. He was a fan favorite in 14 years with the Colts, compiling over 1,000 catches and nearly 15,000 yards. Wayne tore his ACL midway through the 2013 season, and returned with a sub-par, injury plagued 2014 campaign. His contract expired at the end of that season, and looking at a 36 year old receiver with knee and shoulder problems, the Colts announced they would not be looking at bringing him back. Enter the Patriots, who decided to give him a 1 year flier. After spending years on the other side of the Brady-Manning rivalry, Wayne arrived in New England to a mix of hype and speculation. It wouldn’t last long though. Wayne asked for, and was granted his release from the Patriots a little over a week after signing, complaining that playing for New England was ‘too hard’ and ‘not fun. Both Wayne and Holt retired top 10 in receiving yards.
Joseph Addai (2012)
Another key member of the Colts almost-dynasty that washed up in New England. Addai had at least 100 touches in all 6 years in Indy, and had two double-digit touchdown seasons as Peyton Manning’s goal-line back. He build up a reputation as a Patriot killer, replacing Edgerrin James, who had a history of regressing again New England’s defenses. After setting career lows in yards and touchdowns in 2011, the Colts let Addai walk, he signed with the Patriots a month later. He wouldn’t even see the practice fields, forget game action, as he failed his pre-training camp physical and was released.
Robert Gallery (2012)
Low-key one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Called “the best lineman to come out of college in years” by Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Gallery was taken 2nd overall by the Raiders in the 2004 draft. (He is the only one of the top 8 in that draft to not make a pro-bowl, and the three picks immediately following him were Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, and Sean Taylor. Way to go Al Davis.) He struggled immediately in Oakland, resulting in the Raiders moving him from left to right tackle, which he also couldn’t handle, to guard, where he put together a couple of decent years. After playing just one year of a three year deal in Seattle, Belichick brought him to Foxboro as insurance for Logan Mankins, who was coming off of ACL surgery. He went unnoticed for most of camp (which is good for an offensive lineman), but decided in early August he was done with football, and retired.
John Lynch (2008)
Maybe the best player on this list, and definitely the best story. A rare mix of intelligence and physicality at the safety position, Belichick watched him put together a hall of fame career in Tampa and Denver. After dominating his position for a decade and a half, Lynch asked to be released before the 2008 season. When he got to New England, it was clear he had lost a step, and at halftime of the Patriots 4th preseason game, Lynch and Belichick realized this was the end of the road. Instead of being cut, Lynch agreed to retire, but asked his coach if he could play the remainder of the game, usually reserved for undrafted rookies and guys bound for the CFL. Belichick obliged, and thus John Lynch got 30 minutes of dominance over a bunch of players who had no business on an NFL field. Coolest preseason moment ever?
Will Smith (2014)
The one bright spot on a perennially bad defense, Smith was a grinder year in and year out for the Saints, recording 67.5 sacks in 9 years for New Orleans, and anchoring a Super Bowl winning defensive line. The Saints parted ways with him after an ACL tear kept him out of the 2013 season. He made his way to New England the next year, but the knee continued to be an issue, he was released in late August.
Terrance Knighton (2016)
Ok, you might remember this one. Another former Patriot killer, Knighton had his shots at TB12 during his time with the Denver Broncos, giving the Patriots fits in the 2013 AFC Championship game. But ‘Pot Roast’ just felt like a fit in New England, having grown up a Patriots fan in Connecticut. His size and playing style fit the mold of Vince Wilfork, who had left the year before. However, despite being one of the most hyped signings of the Patriots off-season, he struggled to earn playing time throughout training camp and was part of the final roster cutdown.
Tebucky Jones (2006) and David Patten (2010)
Yes, they were key contributors in Patriots Super Bowl wins. But what people forget is that after leaving to chase that big payday Super Bowl champions get, they returned to finish their careers in Foxboro. Jones left the Patriots in 2003, and after stints with Miami and New Orleans, returned for a limited time before the 2006 season. Patten, who had some of the biggest catches during the Patriots original championship run in the early 2000’s, followed the money to Washington, where injuries kept him off of the field for most of his tenure. After similar results with the Saints and Browns, Belichick brought him back (along with Torry Holt) in 2010 hoping to give Tom Brady a more experienced receiving corps to work with. A few weeks into camp, at age 36, Patten decided to hang up the cleats.
Did I miss anybody? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @The_REAL_Alex_B.
Written By: Alex Barth (@The_REAL_Alex_B)