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Why did the Patriots Make Sneaky Awesome Signings in Leonard Hankerson and LaAdrian Waddle?

The New England Patriots claimed two players on waivers and people are looking at it the completely wrong way.

The New England Patriots claimed two former starters on waivers in wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Hankerson had been placed on the injured reserve, similar to our now beloved Leonard Johnson, before quickly being released, and Waddle was released for poor performance after starting six games this season.

If we can get overly general for a moment, there are a few camps of thought when approaching these additions.

There's the group that doesn't really care about this transaction which, okay, neither of these players are going to be Prime Larry Fitzgerald, so if roster building doesn't move the needle, then these transactions aren't for you.

Another group is wondering why the Patriots didn't find a way to add another player that can change the offense, like a Randy Moss, a Terrell Owens, or a Steven Jackson. Unfortunately, Bill Belichick has been prevented from using his time machine, but these out-of-football veterans offer far less value than, say, someone who picked up 180 yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 catches against the Giants and Texans this season.

And there's a third group that understands why these transactions were made and why Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio are the best roster builders in the entire league. The Patriots have a habit of adding players that are marginally better than what currently resides on the back-end of the roster.

Tight end Michael Williams is better than Michael Hoomanawanui. Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is better than Chris Harper. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is better than Chris Jones. Linebacker Jonathan Bostic is better than Dekoda Watson. Cornerback Leonard Johnson is better than Rashaan Melvin. Maybe not by an incredible amount, but these little marginal improvements add up over a 53-man roster.

This is no different than the Patriots trading for Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas last season. When the Patriots are able to sign or acquire players deep into the season that are able to contribute to a conference leading roster, then that's an improvement that has to be appreciated.

Teams aren't going to be able to sign a top tier wide receiver with three weeks left in the season, but as NESN's Doug Kyed points out, Hankerson averaged 43 snaps in the Falcons offense that started 5-1, and Atlanta went 0-5 upon his departure with an injury. Hankerson lines up all over the formation and he offers similar production to Brandon LaFell, drops and all.

I've seen some say oh no, we already have a LaFell! when instead they should be saying how the heck did the Patriots sign another LaFell in December?

I had a chat with Dan Marowni in the comments section of our examination of ESPN's Todd McShay's mock draft article, and it's clear that offensive tackle is considered a possible need for the Patriots heading into next off season. Nate Solder will be returning from a biceps injury, Sebastian Vollmer will be 32 years old, and Marcus Cannon is a top salary cap casualty candidate.

So instead the Patriots sign former Lions tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who has started 24 games over his three season career. New England will have control of Waddle's contract at the end of the season because he was undrafted and will be a restricted free agent. Waddle is currently just 24 years old.

Waddle finished his rookie season as the Lions starting right tackle and, while some disagree with their ratings, Pro Football Focus considered him the 13th best offensive tackle in the league after just eight games. His sophomore season was derailed with calf and knee injuries, including a partially torn ACL in December that sent him to the injured reserve.

The Lions tried to insert Waddle back into the starting lineup in week 3 and the tackle started his first three games against the Broncos, Seahawks, and Cardinals, which just seems unfair. Waddle, understandably, struggled because of the quick return from an ACL injury, because those defenses are really good, and because the offensive play calling was atrocious enough to get offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi fired.

Most players take over a year to fully recover from ACL injuries, but the Patriots have shown that these players can be worth the investment.

There's still a chance that neither Hankerson nor Waddle play a single down for the Patriots, and they could be released tomorrow to make space for running back Montee Ball on the active roster.

But the Patriots have brought on two players in December that were starting caliber earlier in the season. There's not much more Belichick and Caserio could hope for in an acquisition.