The New England Patriots released five-time Pro Bowl tight end Ben Coates on Wednesday after a season in which his production decreased but his complaining reached a crescendo.
New coach Bill Belichick blamed the salary cap and said the team was forced to go with younger players. Coates, 30, was set to make $2.7 million next season.
"We are faced with some very tough decisions and unfortunately this is one of them," he said. "It's a shame that in this era of salary cap constraints and value considerations, players of Ben Coates' stature often finish their careers in places other than where they established themselves."
Coates set an NFL record for receptions by a tight end in 1994, his first season as a starter, catching 96 passes for 1,174 yards. He caught 84 passes in '95 and 62 with a team-leading nine touchdowns.
He caught 66 passes in '97 and 67 in '98 before dropping to 32 for 370 yards and two TDs last season. He caught just 16 passes in the first eight games of this season, a trend that led the typically quiet Coates to sound off.
"If this is the way they want it, what's there to say?" he said after going without a reception in a 27-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 31. "Just release me. Be my guest."
The complaints were not well-received considering the Patriots were 6-2 at the time. Later in the week, Coates said he was just frustrated.
"It's a little frustrating going from catching six balls a game to hardly catching any balls now," he said. "I just got frustrated. Things I shouldn't have said I said, but that's what happens when you get frustrated."
Although then-coach Pete Carroll said at the time that Coates remained an important part of the offense, there were whispers around the team that the tight end's skills had diminished.
"Throw me a couple of balls," Coates said in response, "and we'll see about that."
Now he'll be catching balls for someone else.
"However painful the process, blending in younger and less expensive players sometimes has to be done," Belichick said. "Obviously, I respect how much Ben has given to this organization over the last decade and I am sure he will remain one of the most revered players in Patriots history."
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