Unable to come to a resolution with holdout wide receiver Deion Branch, the Patriots added to their receiving corps yesterday by trading a fifth-round draft choice for Doug Gabriel.
Gabriel, who played the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders, was scheduled to arrive in town this morning. The 26-year-old wideout entered the league in 2003 as a fifth-round draft choice and has 71 career catches for 1,122 yards and five touchdowns. He should be in contention for a starting role, and also has experience as a kickoff returner.
``Doug is very excited about the trade," said Bus Cook, Gabriel's agent. ``He thinks it's a great career move, being with Tom Brady and that offense."
The 6-foot-2 -inch, 215-pound Gabriel, who is signed though the 2007 season, adds a different dimension to the receiving group with his size and speed. He should help one of the team's key needs, the outside passing game, as he has averaged 15.8 yards per catch. In Oakland, Gabriel was part of a receiving group that included Randy Moss, Jerry Porter , and Ronald Curry.
The acquisition could affect the team's willingness to trade Branch, who received contract offers from the Seahawks and Jets in the one-week period allotted for him to negotiate with other clubs.
The Patriots also made a handful of moves yesterday to reach the league's 53-man roster limit.
Safety Tebucky Jones, who injured his right hamstring Aug. 26 against the Redskins, was placed on injured reserve, meaning he's out for the season. He is the third special teams player, following Mel Mitchell and Barry Gardner, to suffer a season-ending injury.
Meanwhile, offensive tackle Randy Hand, wide receiver Kelvin Kight, safety Guss Scott, center/guard Dan Stevenson, inside linebacker Corey Mays, defensive end Santonio Thomas, cornerback Antwain Spann, center/guard Billy Yates , and defensive lineman Dan Klecko were released.
Most of those can return on the eight-man practice squad -- which can be put together today -- if they aren't claimed on waivers by another club.
The team also placed running back Patrick Pass on the physically unable to perform list, making him eligible to return after the sixth week of the season.
The Patriots kept 25 players on offense (which includes Branch, who doesn't count against the roster limit because he hasn't reported to camp), and 26 on defense, to go with kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Josh Miller , and long snapper Lonie Paxton.
Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Matt Cassel
This is a change from years past, as the Patriots go with just two signal-callers on the active roster for the first time in Bill Belichick's tenure (2000-present). While most teams keep more than two quarterbacks, the defending champion Steelers also went with just two.
Running back (4): Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans
The team kept three running backs on its 53-man roster in 2005, but Evans adds value as a fourth back, as he's a presence in short-yardage situations, can block as a fullback, and plays on several special teams units.
Wide receiver (6): Deion Branch, Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Chad Jackson, Bam Childress, Doug Gabriel
The addition of Gabriel adds a jolt to a spot that has been thin throughout the preseason, although it doesn't make up for the absence of Branch, the top player in the group.
Tight end (4): Daniel Graham, Benjamin Watson, David Thomas, Garrett Mills
One of the deepest positions on the roster, with Mills also chipping in with fullback duties. Look for the team to feature a lot of multiple tight end sets.
Offensive line (9): Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Ryan O'Callaghan, Nick Kaczur, Russ Hochstein, Gene Mruczkowski, Wesley Britt
The team boasts an impressive, young group, as the oldest player is the 29-year-old Neal. This area has been one of the team's best in preseason, as both the first- and second-unit lines played well.
Defensive line (8): Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Johnathan Sullivan, Mike Wright, Marquise Hill, Le Kevin Smith
Like the offensive line, the defensive front is strong, athletic, and young, with Seymour and Green, who are both 26, the oldest players.
Inside linebacker (6): Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, Larry Izzo, Don Davis, Eric Alexander
Vrabel and Seau will be the early-down starters until Bruschi returns, while Davis has been playing as part of the team's third-down package. Izzo and Alexander are primarily special teams contributors.
Outside linebacker (3): Rosevelt Colvin, Tully Banta-Cain, Pierre Woods
Vrabel could also be part of this group, although he's needed more inside at this time. Colvin and Banta-Cain are the starters, with Woods the surprise of camp by making the team as a rookie free agent.
Cornerback (4): Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Randall Gay, Chad Scott
Samuel and Hobbs are the starters, while Gay and Scott also have starting experience. The 6-1 , 205-pound Scott, who also contributes on special teams , adds a larger presence to an otherwise smaller group.
Safety (5): Eugene Wilson, Rodney Harrison, Artrell Hawkins, James Sanders, Willie Andrews
Wilson and Harrison enter as starters, although Hawkins is a key presence in the event Harrison suffers a setback with his knee. Sanders is part of the team's third-down package, while Andrews may be more of a factor as a kickoff and punt returner.
Ross Tucker was cut by the Browns yesterday, meaning the Patriots won't receive a draft choice from Cleveland. The Patriots had traded Tucker to the Browns for a conditional draft choice on Aug. 8, with the pick tied to Tucker making the roster. Meanwhile, two other players the Patriots traded for conditional picks -- Brandon Gorin in Arizona and Patrick Cobbs in Pittsburgh -- made the final cuts.