According to multiple reports, the New England Patriots have made a swap of wide receivers - releasing second year pro Greg Salas and re-signing veteran Deion Branch. According to ESPN Boston's Field Yates, Salas was one of three players to be released today by the Patriots: fullback Lex Hilliard and linebacker Mike Rivera.
Rivera and Salas both have practice squad eligibility, so it wouldn't be surprising to see either or both of them back in that capacity.
As for Branch - this move isn't a huge surprise. After getting released 18 days ago, Branch's locker was never taken down. And just Saturday, he suggested that a return to the Patriots could be in the cards at some point. As it happened, an injury to tight end/receiver Aaron Hernandez on Sunday made the need for a reliable receiving option such as Branch that much greater.
More analysis on the Branch move after the jump!
While Kellen Winslow, also signed today, figures to take some of Hernandez' reps as a receiving tight end, don't forget that Hernandez had been splitting out wide for the majority of his snaps this year. So when he went down, Bill Belichick probably figured that the Patriots could use a reliable option to replicate some of Hernandez' outside production. Kellen Winslow probably isn't the most ideal candidate for that, and the team probably figured that Greg Salas wasn't ready to step into such a role.
Enter Deion Branch.
While it's hard to say where Branch will get his snaps at this point, he'll more than likely be on the 46 man active game day roster, and should be ready to go Sunday night against the Ravens. Branch doesn't have the athleticism he once does, but as he proved in the preseason, he can still beat tight man coverage with his savvy route running, and his chemistry with Tom Brady remains unparalleled.
The signings of Branch and Winslow and the release of Salas, Rivera, and Hilliard give the Patriots one open roster spot to work with.