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Cutting good players is actually a good sign

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 31, 2012 04:41 PM

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There are few crueler reminders than NFL cutdown that one person's fulfilled dreams are often countered by the denial or deference of someone else's.

It's a particular bummer when familiar, accomplished players are told that Coach Belichick wants to see you, and oh, bring your playbook. It's never easy to say goodbye to Dan Koppen, a sturdy anchor on a couple of Super Bowl winners, or Deion Branch, the Most Valuable Player of the Patriots' last Super Bowl victory who might have helped secure another title or even two had he not taken a four-year detour to Seattle.

Branch and Koppen were victims of time and The Turk Friday, the two veterans with a total of 19 NFL seasons and four Super Bowl rings between them standing out as the most notable names among those released by the Patriots during the unsparing cutdown to the final 53.

Brian Hoyer, Tom Brady's apprentice the past couple of seasons, was dropped as well. Tough James Ihedigbo, too.

It's understandable to want to pay appropriate homage to Patriots players who have been a part of so many fulfilling Sundays. Heck, pour out 12 ounces of whatever the official gameday beverage that helps you stay hydrated happens to be, wear that No. 84 jersey (No. 83 if you still have the old-school Branch kicking around) when you do yard work tomorrow, salute them in your own way.

But if you're tempted to take to Twitter or the local airwaves to caterwaul about the injustice of it all, first, remind yourself of a couple things.

Bill Belichick knows better than -- well, certainly than the person writing this and all of you reading it combined -- about what is best for this team. Rarely do his cuts come back to haunt the franchise. And sometimes, the cuts actually come back -- I wouldn't be surprised to see Branch or Jabar Gaffney back on this roster in a week or so.

Also, consider: When familiar names are cut for football reasons, that's not necessarily bad -- in fact, it's a strong suggestion that young players are emerging and that there's depth on the roster beyond the starting 22.

If this is Branch's final goodbye here, shoot, I'll miss him, too. He's a wonderful, positive guy who got the most out of his ability, who rose to the occasion in many huge moments. (You can cite last season's Super Bowl as an example of when he didn't. I wasn't planning on it.) I'll always believe Peyton Manning's Super Bowl ring count would still be at zero had Branch, rather than Reche Caldwell or Doug Gabriel, been a part of the '06 team.

But once the moment of acknowledgement has passed, it's pretty foolish to dwell on who isn't here rather than who is. One of the reasons these name players were let go Friday is because this team is loaded. Tom Brady may not approach the records he set in 2007, but this offense, with Brandon Lloyd joining Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez, is more diverse than the one he had five years ago.

The defense features steady veterans such as Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, two extraordinarily talented rookies in Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, and a fascinating group of core players of various accomplishment moving into their prime.

The offense will be spectacular, and the defense should be much improved just by showing up.

Sure, there are concerns -- after the way the shorthanded offensive line performed in preseason, you wish Tom Brady's canine paraphernalia included a protective invisible fence. Ras-I Dowling needs to stay healthy and Devin McCourty needs to stay confident, and both cornerbacks could benefit greatly by the assistance provided by a decent pass rush.

But the Patriots' list of concerns is comparatively quite short. I look up and down this roster and stare at the depth charts, and though they feature fewer familiar names than they did just a few hours ago, I cannot help but think that this team is so loaded that with good health and good luck, it's well-positioned to accomplish what was denied the '08 club the moment Brady went down halfway through the first quarter of the first game:

Tear through the league, from Week 1 all the way to the Super Bowl, eventually avenging an agonizing Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Optimistic? Sure. I don't understand Patriots fans who aren't, to be honest. Did the Red Sox beat you down that much?

It's too bad Branch probably won't be around for this season's ride. But that's how it goes, that vicious cycle of NFL life that becomes magnified on cutdown day -- one player's sad departure opens the door for another's dream to come true.


About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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