While Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States, the New England Patriots followed their ‘No Days Off’ mantra today: the team did not only make two transactions at their wide receiver position, it also finalized its initial practice squad. As part of this process, the club signed three players: offensive linemen Colby Gossett and Najee Toran, and edge defender Gerri Green were all added to the practice squad.
Normally, this would mean that the team’s 10-man squad was now filled out with the eleventh player under contract — fullback Jakob Johnson — being granted an exemption due to his status as an international player. According to a report by NESN’s Doug Kyed, however, the German-born Johnson did not get declared as such by the Patriots and will therefore count against the practice squad limit after all.
So what does this all mean? Players entering the NFL through its so-called Pathway Program are randomly assigned to teams in one division and in turn allowed to participate during training camp and preseason. This offseason, Johnson was put on the Patriots as a roster-exempt 91st player. While he saw considerable action during the team’s four exhibition games, he was unable to crack the 53-man roster behind starting fullback James Develin.
After not getting claimed off waivers, Johnson automatically reverted to New England’s practice squad. Had the club then declared him as an international player he would have been allowed to spend the entire season on its practice squad but would have been ineligible to join an active roster in New England or elsewhere. With the Patriots not labeling him ‘international,’ he can now do all those things but also counts against the 10-man limit.
Why would the Patriots do that? It’s obvious that they like what Johnson brings to the table as a physical, high-motor fullback. Furthermore, he also showed tremendous positional versatility by lining up at tight end, on special teams, and even at outside linebacker. And with fellow fullback/tight end-hybrid Andrew Beck leaving the Patriots to join the Denver Broncos after his release, the team apparently felt the need to carry an additional layer of depth at the position.
As a result of this, the world champions had to make an additional move to fit Johnson under their 10-man limit: the Patriots released offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis, who saw plenty of snaps as a reserve lineman during preseason but proved himself to be little more than a raw developmental prospect. The undrafted rookie can of course be re-signed at any point if not picked up by another team.