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New England Patriots surprisingly release DT Tommy Kelly

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The New England Patriots made a few surprising cuts on Sunday. Leading the list is defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, a player who figured to be an important piece on defense. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the news as the Patriots are on their way to trimming their roster to 75 players by Tuesday.

Kelly, who missed the majority of last season after suffering a torn ACL, figured to be a major contributor this season. The move is even more surprising because the team lacked depth on the defensive line and with Vince Wilfork also returning from injury, having a veteran like Kelly would help sure up the defensive tackle position.

The Patriots signed Kelly as a free agent before last season. His presence alongside Wilfork really strengthened the team’s run defense before both players went out with injury. In their absence, teams were able to run on the Patriots up the middle. Kelly’s return was seen as a major boost, but his return to the lineup was a short one.

Kelly played 50 snaps for the team over the first three preseason games and looked to be back to his old self, which is why the release is puzzling to him. He told Tom Curran of in response to the reason for his release, “I don’t know but I enjoy my time and my teammates. I have no problem moving along with my career.”

Cutting a veteran player like Kelly this early gives him a chance to sign on with another team. He could also be brought back later by the Patriots if he is still available. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this move was made to free up cap space. The team also released veteran linebacker James Anderson and defensive end Will Smith.