Feelings and emotions have no place in football. There’s no time for such normal human nonsense, so yesterday when Jake Ballard failed his Giants physical after tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl last February, he was promptly waived.
He knew that he likely wouldn’t play in the 2012 season and he’d need a full year to recover, and he also surely knew that there was a good chance he’d be jettisoned by the Giants. Each roster spot has value, whether it’s a spot on the 53-man roster, or a slot on the extended roster in training camp as teams attempt to get a look at as many players as possible.
He didn’t think he’d be on a different team less than 24 hours later, thus completing football’s cruel cycle after Ballard’s major injury robbed him of a chance to continue as a key offensive contributor on a championship team.
When Ballard was waived yesterday, in a tweet he said that he believed he’d be back with the Giants for the 2013 season. Had he cleared waivers today that would have happened, because he would have gone back on New York’s IR, and eventually to the physically unable to perform list.
Instead he’s now been claimed by the Patriots, according to multiple reports. That’s the same team that Ballard caught two passes against in the Super Bowl, a championship he celebrated just this past Friday with a trip to the White House. He also had success against a feeble Patriots secondary during the regular season, catching four passes for 67 yards and a touchdown in a Week 9 win.
At first this will seem like an odd acquisition for the Patriots, who presumably intend to line up six tight ends on every snap next year once Ballard is fully recovered. Rob Gronkowski just signed a massive six-year contract extension that was the most lucrative deal ever handed to a tight end, and Aaron Hernandez will still be under contract and entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2013.
You’re forgetting who keeps those Patriots marching in line, and enforces the Patriot Way. Ballard’s current contract expires next March, and he’s due to be paid only $540,000 for the 2012 season. He then becomes a restricted free agent, giving New England exclusive negotiating rights. His value will clearly still be limited at that point because he won’t play a single snap this year. So assuming there’s no significant snags in Ballard’s ACL recovery, the Patriots will have then taken a minimal financial risk this year to turn around and take a similar risk next year and sign a player who had 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns during just his first full season as a starter.
Bill Belichick wrote the Patriot Way, his manual for dealing with contracts and player aging. So for Jedi Bill it’s quite likely that Ballard becomes a pawn to use against Hernandez as he’s either looking for a new contract, or an extension. Again, if we assume Ballard is signed to a very affordable deal sometime next offseason, then he’ll give Belichick a bit of leverage to use while keeping Hernandez’s paycheck more reasonable. Hernandez is certainly worth the money, but there’s only some much cash that can be dedicated to the tight end position after Gronk was given $55.23 million.
So in the end Belchick could be the winner here after another shrewd move, while Ballard is the loser with his role quickly shrunk from starter, to depth player and part-time contributor.
Welcome to the Patriots, Jake.