Yesterday, when the clock struck 12:00 am ET, the 2016 New England Patriots received an infusion of talent as quarterback Tom Brady and edge defender Rob Ninkovich officially returned from their respective four-game suspensions. Consequently, the Patriots will have to make room on their roster for the two starters.
However, this does not have to happen just yet. In fact, they do not even have to happen this week as New England was granted one-week roster exemptions for both Brady and Ninkovich (via Mike Reiss):
Patriots get exemptions for Tom Brady/Rob Ninkovich thru Monday 10/10. If they are activated for game, corresponding moves must be made then
This means that both players, while able to practice with the team and work at the facilities for the first time since their suspensions started, do not count against the Patriots’ 53-man roster (which currently is at 52 after the release of tight end Clay Harbor). Ergo, New England is able to carry 54 players until Brady and Ninkovich are activated.
While the exemptions run through Monday, a standard procedure throughout the league, the team can activate the players at any time. Don’t be surprised, though, if this happens as late as Saturday. In this case, the team could keep one (or maybe even two) additional players around for almost a week; something Bill Belichick likely will take advantage of.