Bill Belchick has some tough decisions to make after the preseason finale...
Branch, Koppen Among Patriots Cuts
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)
[Editor's Note: Cutdowns were previously reported here]
The New England Patriots released 2005 Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch on Friday and he tweeted his goodbye to the fans.
''Truly thankful for all the support from everybody. I Love You guys (hash)LovePeaceandHappiness,'' the wide receiver said.
The Patriots also released center Dan Koppen and quarterback Brian Hoyer to get down to the NFL limit of 53 for the opener at Tennessee Sept. 9.
The release of Branch and Koppen leaves the Patriots with just two players from their last Super Bowl championship team (2005), quarterback Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Two other members of that team left this year, as left tackle Matt Light retired in the offseason and running back Kevin Faulk was not re-signed.
New England also released safety James Ihedigbo, who started 12 games last season.
Branch, 33, spent all or parts of six seasons in New England. He recorded 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns last year, and has 502 receptions for 6,499 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career. Branch's spot on the team appeared safe after the Patriots cut receivers Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney earlier this week. The other wide receivers are Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater.
Branch was a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots, and was named MVP of their victory over Philadelphia after tying a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards. He was the first receiver to win the honor since San Francisco's Jerry Rice (1989). He then spent four injury-plagued seasons with Seattle before returning to New England during the 2010 season.
Hoyer's departure signals the emergence of Ryan Mallett as the backup to Brady, as well as the team's preference to carry just two quarterbacks.
Hoyer, 26, signed with New England as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State in 2009 and served as Brady's backup for three seasons. He played in just 13 regular-season games with no starts. He completed 13 of 32 passes for 100 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions during the preseason, while Mallett went 25 of 52 for 260 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. New England drafted Mallett out of Arkansas in the third round last year.
Koppen had been New England's starting center since 2003 but fractured his ankle in the season opener last year and missed the rest of the season.
The Patriots placed one player on injured reserve, running back Jeff Demps. He signed as a rookie free agent after winning an Olympic silver medal in the 4x100-meter relay.
The veterans released included safeties Sergio Brown, Derrick Martin and Malcolm Williams, defensive lineman Marcus Harrison, linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, wide receiver Jesse Holley and offensive lineman Matt Kopa.
The Patriots also cut wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, a seventh-round draft pick this year, and four first-year players - fullback Eric Kettani, defensive lineman Aaron Lavarias, tight end Alex Silvestro and wide receiver Kerry Taylor.
The five rookie free agents released were tight end Tyler Urban and offensive linemen Derek Dennis, Dustin Waldron, Jeremiah Warren and Darrion Weems.
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