The New England Patriots returned to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday to start on-field preparations for the upcoming divisional clash with the New York Jets. Among those present during the media portion early during practice were two players previously on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
For the first time all season, quarterback Jarrett Stidham and defensive tackle Byron Cowart set foot on the practice fields. They were eligible to do so after having missed the first six games on reserve/PUP.
Two mid-round selections by the Patriots in the 2019 NFL Draft, Stidham and Cowart were both sent to PUP at the start of training camp. While Stidham was moved to the reserve list after undergoing back surgery in July, Cowart was forced to spend the summer and early portions of the regular season there for undisclosed reasons.
Now both of them have been deemed ready to return, even though they find themselves in different situations relative to the depth at their respective positions.
Stidham’s outlook is very much uncertain given that first-round rookie Mac Jones is firmly entrenched as the Patriots’ starter. The third-year man is therefore little more than a backup option or potential trade commodity at this point in time, but he will still be given a chance over the next few weeks to prove his value as a potential upgrade over current QB2 Brian Hoyer.
Cowart, on the other hand, is coming off a season that saw him serve as the Patriots’ number four interior defensive lineman in terms of snaps played. With fellow D-lineman Henry Anderson out for the remainder of the year, New England would benefit from having him back on the active roster as a rotational depth option up front.
Regardless of circumstances, the Patriots now have 21 days to make a decision on Stidham and Cowart. The two youngsters being present for Wednesday’s session, after all, officially opened a three-week window in which the team has to decide whether to activate them to the 53-man roster, release them, or have them revert to PUP and miss the remainder of the season.
The other three players now also eligible to return to practice off either PUP or the non-football injury list (NFI) — linebackers Terez Hall and Cameron McGrone, defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe — have not been spotted yet.