Today, the first members of the 2017 New England Patriots arrived at Gillette Stadium to report to the team's training camp: rookies, quarterbacks and previously injured players. The latter group apparently included two of the team's core defenders – two players who will start camp on the sidelines.
Per the NFL transaction wire (and first reported by ESPN's Field Yates), both linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch have been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The two players were spotted during spring workouts but did not participate in any team drills.
Hightower and Branch, who started last year's training camp on the sidelines as well, have been two of New England's best and most consistent defenders over the last few seasons. Consequently, both were re-signed during the offseason: Team captain Hightower returned to Foxboro on a four-year, $35.5 million contract while Branch was signed to a two-year, $12 million deal.
Seeing the two high-priced veterans placed on the PUP list should not be the cause of much concern, though. After all, the team is able to active both of them as soon as they are back to full strength. Until then, the team's depth players at defensive tackle and linebacker – unless either of them is activated before Thursday's first practice – will get additional practice reps.
The Patriots also made a third transaction today by placing undrafted rookie offensive tackle Andrew Jelks on the active/non-football injury (NFI) list. Jelks, who has missed his last two collegiate seasons due to consecutive ACL tears, was absent during offseason workouts. Since the injuries occurred prior to his days in the NFL, they count as non-football issues. However, Jelks can be activated off the list at any time.
[UPDATE] The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe has added additional context to the Patriots placing Hightower and Branch on PUP:
Alan Branch is opening camp on the PUP list. This has been the typical routine for him until he passes his conditioning test. No concern.
Hightower is also on PUP. Team had really throttled down the workload on him this offseason.
The two tweets basically echo the original sentiment that neither transaction is a big deal as things currently stand.