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What re-signing cornerback Tae Hayes means for the Patriots

After being waived by the Patriots in February, the veteran has now made his way back to the team.

NFL: JAN 01 Dolphins at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots added to their cornerback group on Tuesday. As the team announced, Tae Hayes was brought back into the fold after already spending time on the practice squad and active roster down the stretch in 2022.

Hayes was originally waived in mid-February, but three months later has now returned. What does the decision to re-sign him mean for the team, though? Let’s find out.

New England bolsters its depth on the outside. Despite measuring at only 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, Hayes spent most of his career aligning on the outside of the defense. He will therefore compete for a backup position behind projected starters Christian Gonzalez and Jack Jones, going up against veterans Shaun Wade and Quandre Mosely, as well as late-round rookies Ameer Speed and Isaiah Bolden.

While adding him to the mix does not tip the scales too much, the 25-year-old does bolster the Patriots’ depth at outside cornerback and also adds some experience. Speaking of which...

The Patriots add experience to a young position group. Even though he has played only 13 regular season games over the course of his career, Hayes has seen plenty of football since turning pro in 2019. He is currently on his sixth NFL franchise after prior stints in Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, Arizona and Carolina, and was also part of the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions during their inaugural 2022 season.

This makes Hayes one of the more experienced members of the Patriots’ current cornerback group. In fact, only two of its members — Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills (who might be moving to safety this offseason) — have played professional football longer than Hayes.

Some roster tweaking might be necessary. After adding 12 players through the draft and also signing three undrafted free agents, the Patriots effectively entered the week with all 90 spots on their roster occupied. This means that adding Hayes will indirectly trigger a follow-up transaction at one point: once the reported UDFA signings become official — which has not yet happened, officially leaving the team at 88 players now — somebody will have to go.

At one point, that somebody will become Devin McCourty. The veteran safety did retire earlier this offseason, but the move has not been processed yet; he will take up a roster spot until this happens. The expectation is that McCourty’s retirement will hit the NFL transactions wire after June 1.

Until then, the Patriots will need to find another way to create space on their 90-man team if they indeed plan on signing three undrafted rookies.

Adding Hayes impacts the Patriots’ salary cap space. The NFL is currently operating under its Top-51 rule, meaning that only a team’s 51 most expensive contracts are actually counted against the salary cap. Hayes’ is among them: due to his experience, his minimum salary of $1.01 million is high enough to bump fellow defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe from the list.

This means that New England’s salary cap has decreased slightly, by $70,000. According to Miguel Benzan, the team has just under $12 million left to work with.