We still don't know for sure whether or not All-Pro guard Brian Waters will return to the Patriots in 2012 but the possibility of him suting up for this Patriots this season appear to get lower and lower by the day.
Yesterday, the Patriots assigned the #54 jersey to rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Typically, in the past, the Patriots have reserved jersey numbers for players who could return to the team at a latter date. Purely reading tea leaves and based on past trends, that means the Patriots probably don't think Waters is returning. At a minimum, it's anything but a positive sign. At this point, it looks like the Patriots will need to be prepared for life without Brian Waters.
On the flip-side, it's interesting to see the Patriots hand Hightower the 54 jersey - one worn by one of the greatest linebackers in team history - Tedy Bruschi. If you're wondering whether or not Bruschi would be cool with another linebacker donning #54, here's what he had to say on the subject when he first retired in 2009:
"It was never really my goal to have my number retired. I wanted to win championships, and whatever came with that, so be it. I know the Patriots have a good amount of numbers that are retired. I would love to see a linebacker in the future wear number ‘54' and perform well. I would love to see that. All retired numbers of the New England Patriots should be unretired and other players should be able to wear those numbers. Realize the history of the number and who wore that number before and the standard that they should try and uphold of past players."
So there you have it - cool for Hightower, approved by Bruschi, but bad news for those hoping to see Brian Waters return to the team.