"It was a shock. It wasn't one of the things I was expecting to hear today. It didn't cross my mind," Sanders said Monday afternoon.
Sanders wasn't given a reason for the team's decision, and said he was disappointed in not having a chance to compete for a roster spot. He injured his left hamstring while doing conditioning work before training camp began, and had only been on the field for four practices before playing in the preseason for the first time Saturday night. He started and played 19 snaps against the Lions.
"I wish I would have had a fair shot this camp. I came in hurt and obviously that weighed into it," Sanders said. "But stuff happens and you have to move on."
Sanders is now fully healthy, and a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the safety has a meeting Tuesday with the Falcons.
"The hamstring feels good now and I was eager to get back on the field with my teammates and get ready for the opener. But the Patriots had another plan," he said.
Sanders was scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.8 million this season, which the Patriots might have deemed too rich for a player who might have been third on the depth chart behind Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung. Sanders wasn't told if the salary was the reason he was being released.
"They just said it was time to move on and they felt I earned the opportunity to choose where I wanted to go rather than get traded somewhere I wouldn't want to go," Sanders said. "They said I earned that much from (Coach Bill Belichick) and the team, so they released me and gave me the opportunity to test the market."
Belichick called Sanders' cut a "tough release."
"James has been a really good guy to have on this team, a hard-working kid. He developed form the time he came through to us as a (fourth-round) draft choice out of Fresno (State in 2005)," he said. "He was a solid team player for us. It's just part of the moves. We needed to release some people and he was a tough one. So, we'll have a couple other moves before we reach the limit, but we're close to it.
"Not a lot of negatives with James, but we have to select the players that are best for our team."
While caught off guard by the decision, Sanders spoke highly of his time with the team.
"Just playing for a winning organization, one of the top organizations in this league, and having the opportunity to play for a Hall of Fame coach," Sanders said, when asked about what he enjoyed the most from his six-plus years in New England. "Obviously, I'll never forget playing for Coach Belichick. He's a tough, demanding coach. I had some great times here. It would have been nice to win a Super Bowl, but hopefully I'll have another chance with a new team."
Sanders had been with the club since 2005, when the Patriots drafted him in the fourth round out of Fresno State. Sanders appeared in 94 games, with 57 starts, for the Patriots (including playoffs).
Also Monday, the Patriots signed long snapper James Dearth, receiver Tiquan Underwood and safety Ross Ventrone and released 10 other players: Receivers Darnell Jenkins and Tyree Barnes, kicker Chris Koepplin, long snapper Matt Katula, offensive lineman Mark Wetterer, tight end Garrett Mills, defensive backs Jonathan Wilhite and Malcolm Williams and defensive linemen Clay Nurse and Kade Weston. An earlier report that fullback Eric Kettani was among the Patriots cut Monday was incorrect.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.