FOXBOROUGH — So the Patriots claimed Giants tight end Jake Ballard.
Don’t overreact to it.
Ballard is good young prospect, one that killed the Patriots late in last season’s regular-season matchup. But he is far from elite at this point and not viewed as a difference maker. There’s a reason he went undrafted in 2010. While he’s got a great frame at 6-6 and 265 pounds, he’s fairly slow in the 4.8 range.
But he’s got a nice skill set, can obviously catch.
In the Patriots’ two-tight end system, he would be in the traditional role like Rob Gronkowski. It’s termed a “Y” tight end in New England. The Patriots don’t really have another one of those, and they drafted Lee Smith in the 2011 fifth round because of that need (he was later released and claimed by Buffalo).
Aaron Hernandez, who signed through 2013, is an “F” tight end. Basically a receiver/tight end combo.
Daniel Fells, who signed a three-year contract, can fill both the Y and F positions. At 6-3 and 4.8 speed, he’s actually a twiner for both positions.
Now, Ballard had ACL and micro-fracture surgery in February. He would have to have an amazing recovery to be ready by November. The most likely scenario is he’s out for the entire season.
If he doesn’t play, Ballard, would be an exclusive rights free agent again in 2013 and only a minimum tender from the Patriots would keep him on the team. He wouldn’t be a restricted free agent until ’14, and wouldn’t be eligible for unrestricted free agency until ’15.
If he plays, he would be a restricted free agent after this season. As an undrafted free agent, the Patriots would have right of first refusal after tendering him a one-year contract. Under that scenario, Ballard would be an unrestricted free agent in ’14.
Basically, the Patriots got themselves a good, young prospect. Claiming another team’s waived/injured player is a bit against the unwritten rules — the Patriots were ticked when the Vikings pulled a similar move with Garrett Mills in 2007, but pulled their own waived/injured move with Josh Barrett and the Broncos in 2010 — so the Giants will likely remember it, but it was certainly within the Patriots’ right to do it. Part of the business.