On Tuesday the New England Patriots claimed former New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard after he was waived by the Giants on Monday. Ballard tore his ACL during Super Bowl XLVI and after microfracture surgery will likely miss all of the 2012 season. He won’t play for the Patriots in 2012 but his addition brings insurance in case Aaron Hernandez doesn’t return following the expiration of his contract.
Together with Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez wreaked havoc on the NFL in 2011. However, with Hernandez’s contract expiring following the 2013 season, there’s no certainty he’ll remain in New England. With Gronkowski’s $53 million contract extension last week, Hernandez could depart if the Patriots are unwilling to pay near that amount.
Another possible issue is that Gronkowski will be the starting tight end for the Patriots for the foreseeable future and with some of the wide receivers signed this offseason, the Patriots may not have room for the duel tight end system that was successful in 2011. If so, Hernandez could look elsewhere for a starting job.
That’s why claiming Ballard is good. Ballard is a young tight end that had a strong season in 2011. Having proven he can play in the NFL, assuming he returns to full health, Ballard could be a solid backup to Gronkowski. And at only 24-years old, he could hold that position for a few years. Also, coming off surgery not many teams would be willing to risk a roster spot on Ballard now or in the future meaning the Patriots are unlikely to lose him when his contract expires after the 2012 season.
The Patriots starting offense is pretty well set for the foreseeable future. Assuming the team can come to terms with Wes Welker, they only need to focus on offensive depth. Claiming Ballard didn’t cost the Patriots very much and if he returns to full health, he could solve any future depth issues the Patriots might have a tight end. It may be seen as a risk to claim someone coming off such an injury but with Ballard and the Patriots it could be a high reward.