Since cutting their rosters down from 80 to 53 players earlier this month, the New England Patriots have moved seven players to their injured reserve list. All of them are eligible to return under the NFL’s new rules, but each player sent to IR will have to sit out at least three games. With Week 3 now in the rear-view mirror, the first group of Patriots is therefore now allowed to rejoin the team if each player’s recovery process allows them to do so.
That group consists of running back Damien Harris, wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste and defensive tackle Beau Allen who were all placed on injured reserve during the week leading into New England’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins. Given that the Patriots currently have one open spot on their 53-man roster, and have shown a willingness to take advantage of the new IR rules, it would not be surprising to see at least one of the men come off the list this week.
Let’s find out a bit more about the quartet and where it stands at this point.
RB Damien Harris: One of the Patriots’ training camp standouts, Harris hurt his pinky finger in early September and had to undergo surgery. While the issue was not seen as a major problem at that time, the team decided to still move him to injured reserve in order to gain some roster flexibility heading into the regular season. Harris’ potential return could coincide with some strong performances by fellow running backs Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor during new England’s 36-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
WR Gunner Olszewski: A foot injury limited Olszewski leading into the season opener and the Patriots eventually declared him out for the contest. Instead of carrying him as a game day inactive, however, the team decided to just move him to injured reserve. If Olszewski returns this week, he would add depth to a wide receiver group currently headed by Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd as the top three options, with Jakobi Meyers behind them. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Zuber was elevated to the active roster as well for the Patriots’ game against the Raiders. He is expected to rejoin the practice squad on Monday.
OT Yodny Cajuste: After already having missed his entire rookie season on the non-football injury list — Cajuste underwent offseason surgery on his quad — the former third-round draft pick had to start Year Two on the sidelines as well: a knee injury forced him to miss the first week of regular season practices before he was moved to IR three days before New England’s Week 1 game versus the Dolphins. Cajuste’s injury in combination with the emergence of rookies Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron could lead the Patriots to keep the second-year man on injured reserve for the time being.
DT Beau Allen: While he is now eligible to return to the active roster, everything seems to be on the table for Allen. The veteran, who was signed in free agency to help replace the departed Danny Shelton in the defensive tackle rotation, was a no-show throughout the open portion of training camp due to an undisclosed ailment — one that is apparently not considered to be of the season-ending variety. Getting Allen back now would give New England’s front-seven a boost, but there is no guarantee he is at a point yet at which he can contribute after missing most of the summer.
Given all that we know, what will the Patriots do?
That’s the proverbial million dollar question, but based on the team’s first three games of the season Allen would probably be the one activation that would have the biggest immediate impact: New England is light up front and brought up Xavier Williams and Nick Thurman from the practice squad to offer depth alongside fellow interior linemen Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Byron Cowart. Allen would offer additional depth and a big body to help versus the run.
Olszewski and Harris would probably be the second and third options in terms of adding depth to their respective positions. While the former could help reduce the workload of the top-three Edelman, Harry and Byrd, the latter would add another body to a running back rotation that has looked good as of late but is currently without James White following the death of his father. Cajuste, meanwhile, is in a difficult situation and should not be expected to be reactivated this week.