The New England Patriots made a flurry of moves Saturday to reach the NFL's 53-man roster limit, and none was bigger than the release of veteran Derrick Burgess, a projected starter at an outside linebacker position that is one of the team's biggest question marks.
In addition, hard-hitting safety Brandon McGowan was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. To help fill the void, the Patriots acquired fifth-year safety Jarrad Page from the Kansas City Chiefs for an undisclosed draft choice, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Like McGowan, the 6-foot-, 225-pound Page is a bigger safety who could offer help in a similar hybrid-type role.
The team also swung another trade, acquiring veteran linebacker Tracy White from the Philadelphia Eagles for an undisclosed 2012 draft choice. White, who enters his ninth NFL season, is primarily a special teams player.
While it was a dizzying pace to keep up with all of the team's moves, one they didn't make was also notable. For now, the Patriots are keeping a roster spot open for veteran offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, who has a significant back injury that reportedly required surgery.
The decision to cut ties with Burgess was the Patriots' headline decision, in part because they had been willing to wait for him when he unexpectedly didn't report for the start of training camp in late July. Then, once he did return after a two-week absence, it wasn't long before he was lining up with the starters at outside linebacker.
The position was new for the 32-year-old Burgess, who had been utilized by the Patriots primarily as a defensive end in 2009, when he played 57 percent of the team's snaps and totaled five sacks. Burgess struggled at times this preseason, particularly in the finale against the New York Giants when he badly misdiagnosed an end-around run play.
The Patriots had traded third- and fifth-round draft choices to acquire Burgess from Oakland last year. In retrospect, it was a move that did not produce the desired return on their investment.
Barring any other moves at outside linebacker, the Patriots will turn to second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham, five-year veteran Rob Ninkovich or four-year veteran Marques Murrell as the starter on the left side opposite of Tully Banta-Cain. The next start any of those players makes will be their first.
The loss of McGowan comes on the heels of the Patriots placing veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden (torn rotator cuff) on season-ending injured reserve last Tuesday. So the Patriots have lost two of their most experienced players in the secondary in a span of five days.
While not projected to start, the 26-year-old McGowan is the type of player that provides the coaching staff creativity. Because the Patriots often vary their plans on a week-to-week basis, sometimes morphing into an entirely different defense altogether, McGowan was expected to be on the field often even though he had been passed on the depth chart by 2009 second-round draft choice Patrick Chung. Last season, McGowan played 72 percent of the defensive snaps, the fourth-highest total of any defender, when he appeared in all 16 games with 11 starts.
In all, the Patriots trimmed 20 players off the roster Saturday: Burgess, Aiken, Woods, linebacker Eric Alexander, safety Sergio Brown, offensive lineman George Bussey, tight end Carson Butler, running back Thomas Clayton, wide receiver Buddy Farnham, wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, center/guard Ted Larsen, tight end Rob Myers, center/guard Rich Ohrnberger, wide receiver Rod Owens, quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Chris Taylor, safety Ross Ventrone, offensive tackle Thomas Welch, inside linebacker Thomas Williams and cornerback DeAngelo Willingham.
Some of the players who have been let go could return on the practice squad, assuming they clear waivers Sunday. Teams can start putting together their practice squads Sunday.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for EPSNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.