American Football

What releasing James Robinson, Monday’s other transactions mean for the Patriots


Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp
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New England made three total moves on Monday, including releasing the running back it had just signed in free agency.

The New England Patriots were quite busy on Monday. Not only did the team open its three-day mandatory minicamp on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, they also had offensive lineman D.J. Fluker in for a workout and made some transactions: defensive tackle Justus Tavai was re-signed, while both running back James Robinson and cornerback Tae Hayes were waived.

What do the moves mean for the team, though? Let’s take a big-picture look at the transactions to find out.

DT Justus Tavai: Signed

The Patriots bolster their D-line depth with Lawrence Guy’s status uncertain: New England’s most experienced defensive lineman is a no-show at minicamp in an apparent contract dispute. While the team still has sufficient depth along its interior D-line — led by the likes of Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. — bringing Tavai back into the fold does make sense simply to bolster the back-end of the roster.

His addition will likely not impact New England’s salary cap: Tavai signed a standard three-year undrafted rookie deal when he first joined the Patriots in mid-May, but he was since released. He is now back on a one-year, $750,000 deal. The contract is not large enough to qualify for Top-51 status, and with no guarantees in it as well, it means that the young defensive tackle is not counting versus the cap at the moment.

RB James Robinson: Released

New England took a flier, and it did not pay off: When the Patriots signed Robinson to a two-year, $4 million contract in March, they did structure the deal to reflect his injury history. He had suffered a torn Achilles in December 2021 that impacted his effectiveness throughout the 2022 season as well and left doubts about his long-term outlook. New England decided to take a look on a low-cost, little-guarantee deal, but it appears Robinson does not have enough in the tank right now for the team’s liking.

The young backs will get their chance: With Robinson no longer part of the equation, the Patriots’ running back room is down to five players: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor. Stevenson and Montgomery projects as the lead options on early and late downs, respectively, with Taylor possibly little more than a practice squad candidate. Strong Jr. and Harris, meanwhile, might get a bigger workload with Robinson gone; the sophomore backs saw limited exposure as rookies but could serve as rotational backs in 2023: Strong Jr. projects as more of a change-of-pace player, with Harris an early-down back in the mold of Stevenson.

Robinson’s release creates $310,000 in dead cap: As noted above, the Patriots signed Robinson to a low-risk contract that included minimal guarantees. In fact, only $310,000 were guaranteed: he received a $150,000 roster bonus and $160,000 workout bonus. He earned both of those, meaning that this amount will stay on the team’s books as dead money. His $1.01 million salary and $440,000 in likely-to-be-earned game day bonuses, on the other hand, are now gone.

CB Tae Hayes: Released

The Patriots thin the herd at cornerback: When the Patriots re-signed Hayes in May, they added him to an outside cornerback group led by projected starters Christian Gonzalez and Jack Jones. The veteran was therefore expected to compete against veterans Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosely and late-round rookies Ameer Speed and Isaiah Bolden for a backup spot, but we now know how that competition went. Full disclaimer, though, none of Wade, Mosely, Speed and Bolden making the roster would also not come as a surprise.

His release frees up cap space: Due to his experience — Hayes turned pro in 2019 — Hayes’ minimal-salary contract was enough to earn a Top-51 spot counting against the salary cap during the offseason. His non-guaranteed $1.01 million salary is now erased from the books, meaning that another player is taking that spot for an increase in roughly $65,000. In total, the team gained $698,417 in cap space over the course of Monday and now sits at $13,985,985, according to Miguel Benzan.

In addition to these three moves, the Patriots also made the previously reported signing of third-round draft pick Marte Mapu official. With Mapu in the fold, only two members of New England’s draft class — first-rounder Christian Gonzalez and second-rounder Keion White — remain unaccounted for.

All in all, the Patriots are heading into Tuesday with two open spots on the roster. The aforementioned D.J. Fluker is a candidate to fill one of those, as is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who is set to visit New England for a workout later this week.

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