Just five days ago, the Patriots made a somewhat surprising move in cutting WR Deion Branch and replacing him with Greg Salas. Salas, the on-again off-again wide receiver that should be eligible for this season's Ross Ventrone Award, came to New England from St. Louis for a late-round draft pick in 2015. He very likely arrived bearing very high marks from current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels fresh off of a previous coaching stint with the Rams.
We'll have to wait another
month week to see what the coaching staff has in store for Salas as he was once again waived this afternoon as a result of activating OL Markus Zusevics.
Zusevics, 23, was one of those shrewd draft selections the front office made during the later portion of the draft that you'd be forgiven for not immediately remembering. Originally graded a likely sixth- or seventh-round prospect, Zusevics fell off the league's radar after a torn pectoral muscle kept him out of the combine. The Patriots, after signing him as an undrafted free agent, had placed him on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list to begin the season which functions very similarly to the PUP list—he was unable to participate in the first six games, and the Patriots had to choose after that period had passed whether to add him to the roster, keep him on the NFI or release him outright.
For one, this bodes well for the health of Aaron Hernandez. With the Patriots incredibly thin at wide receiver with just Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater composing the depth chart, the Patriots are likely satisfied with Hernandez enough to not need another pass-catching candidate for offensive targets and snaps.
Zusevics also provides added insurance for an already banged-up offensive line. Logan Mankins has officially been declared out for tonight's game with Dan Connolly still uncertain to play. Given LT Nate Solder's blocking prowess, it's also possible the coaching staff could be comfortable in having Solder assume Gronkowski's role as a run-blocking TE while Zusevics holds the fort down on the offensive line during the play. In that scenario, the Patriots could replace Gronkowski's impact on the resurgent running game satisfactorily, while a combination of Hernandez, Hoomanawanui, Shiancoe and Fells would be relied upon to be the hands in his absence.