Ins and outs of the game

Patriots juggle numbers, not bodies, at deadline

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / October 21, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - The NFL trading deadline came and went yesterday without any fanfare at Gillette Stadium, where there was no Shawne Merriman (as if), no (second coming of) Deion Branch, and no other names added to the roster.

There was only addition by subtraction as the Patriots released veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway and tight end Michael Matthews, and released and re-signed linebackers Tully Banta-Cain (who was cut Monday) and Eric Alexander (who was cut yesterday morning) in a pair of procedural matters that resulted in both signing new one-year deals.

A day after extending wide receiver Sam Aiken to a contract through 2011, which increased his 2009 base salary from $645,000 to $1.16 million, the Patriots jettisoned the 37-year-old Galloway, who had been guaranteed $1.8 million but lost his value after he struggled mightily to pick up the offense and was inactive the past three games.

“Joey, [we] moved on on that one,’’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s had a great career. It was just one of those things that didn’t work out. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault or anything. I don’t think you can pinpoint it. It’s just one of those things that just didn’t work out.’’

Galloway, in his 15th year in the NFL, saw his role steadily diminish after making his Patriots debut (but no catches) in the season opener vs. the Bills. He started the next game, a 16-9 loss against the Jets, and made five catches for 53 yards, but was remembered for the catch he didn’t make on a crucial fourth-down pass that wound up getting deflected.

The following week, in a 26-10 victory over the Falcons, Galloway seemed to lose the trust of Tom Brady, who rolled his eyes after Galloway dropped a second-and-10 pass attempt from the Atlanta 15. The Patriots wound up having to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. In the first quarter of that game, Galloway straddled the back line of the end zone and stepped out of bounds, nullifying an apparent 7-yard touchdown pass.

Galloway’s fate was all but sealed when he was placed on the inactive list for the last three games.

Asked what his expectations were when the Patriots signed Galloway March 19, Belichick replied, “That it would work out. Any time you sign a player, you expect that he’ll come in and be a productive player. He was inactive the last three games and it just didn’t really work out for us, unfortunately, but sometimes that happens.’’

Banta-Cain and Alexander were released before the trade deadline ostensibly to give the team the option of extending their contracts without having to expose them to waivers.

“There’s a lot of different procedures and rules, and I don’t even know if I understand them all,’’ Belichick said. “I don’t want to get into a lot of technicalities, because I’m not sure that I could accurately explain them all, but it’s a procedural thing.’’

Banta-Cain and Alexander were playing under one-year contracts that qualified as “minimum salary benefit’’ deals. Such deals apply to players with four or more seasons of service who sign for the league minimum salary and receive no more than an additional $50,000.

Minimum salary benefit deals cannot be renegotiated, so to lock up both players to longer deals, the Patriots had to release and re-sign them.

Banta-Cain, in his seventh year, and Alexander, a fifth-year player, had been on one-year contracts with $620,000 base salaries and had roster and workout bonuses that totaled an additional $50,000.

According to two league sources, both signed new one-year deals, with Alexander receiving a $650,000 guaranteed salary for the remainder of the season. The value of Banta-Cain’s deal was not disclosed.

A three-year veteran, Matthews was acquired in a trade with the Giants Sept. 6 for a conditional 2011 draft choice. The Patriots can keep that pick because the undisclosed conditions were not met, according to Belichick. Matthews, considered more of a blocking tight end, suited up but did not play in the opener against Buffalo, was inactive vs. the Jets, and played as a reserve in the last three games.

“I thought he came in and did a good job for us and came in late, learning the stuff from the start of the regular season after missing all of training camp being with the Giants,’’ Belichick said. “We just kind of decided to move on in a little different direction here.’’

Belichick said the team has a number of options to fill the two roster spots. The clock started ticking on tackle Mark LeVoir and receiver Brandon Tate, both of whom came off the physically-unable-to-perform list yesterday. The team will have 21 days to activate, release, or place the players on season-ending reserve.

The Patriots also had practice-squad players available for promotion, namely tight end Robbie Agnone and wide receiver Terrence Nunn.

“Certainly, by the end of the week, there’s a good possibility we’ll add somebody in those roster spots,’’ Belichick said. “It could be practice-squad players and it could be PUP players. I don’t know yet, I’m certainly not going to commit to that until we get a chance to see how everybody does, but those are possibilities.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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