FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced that tight end Matt Lengel was released on Sunday, which sparks the following question: Will the team keep a No. 3 tight end on its initial 53-man roster?
Lengel was competing for a potential spot with James O'Shaughnessy (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and undrafted rookies Jacob Hollister (6-4, 239) and Sam Cotton (6-4, 250), but has been sidelined for most of the preseason with a hip strain. He hasn't played in a preseason game, and with his return to action still a few weeks away, the team made the move now.
Of the group vying for a No. 3 role, O'Shaughnessy has the inside track because of his extensive experience on special teams. The Patriots acquired him this offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs, along with a sixth-round pick, in exchange for a fifth-round pick. While listed at 245 pounds, O'Shaughnessy appears to be lighter than that, and is known more as a pass-catcher than an in-line blocker.
Meanwhile, Hollister had a solid pass-catching performance in the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, putting him on the media's radar. Bill Belichick noted that Hollister, who played in college at Wyoming, has had a good preseason, saying, "He’s shown some toughness and ability to hang onto the ball in some critical situations."
Cotton, of Nebraska, is more of a longshot who has accounted well for himself in practice.
Last year, the Patriots kept four tight ends on the initial 53-man roster (Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby and Clay Harbor) before thinning the ranks soon after with a trade (Derby to Denver) and release (Harbor). It would be unconventional if the club didn't keep at least three tight ends on this year's roster, although it's not out of the question they would open with just Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.
Fullback James Develin often practices with the tight ends, and his roster spot is secure. So there's some cross-over with Develin when considering the team's approach at tight end.
Also, with the possibility of keeping as many as five running backs, something will have to give somewhere on the roster.