Veteran interior defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale suffered a reported torn biceps during the New England Patriots’ win over the New York Jets. Given that the injury will likely keep him out for the remainder of the season, the team wasted no time putting him on injured reserve.
The move was one of two transactions made on Tuesday. In addition, the Patriots also released rookie cornerback William Hooper from the practice squad.
Let’s find out what the moves mean for New England from a big picture perspective.
DT Daniel Ekuale: Placed on injured reserve
The defensive tackle depth takes a hit: The Patriots entered Week 3 with eight interior defensive linemen on their roster. Ekuale was joined on the 53-man team by Davon Godchaux, who himself was banged up during Sunday’s game, as well as Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Keion White and Sam Roberts. Jeremiah Pharms Jr., meanwhile, resides as emergency depth on the practice squad.
With Ekuale now out, presumably for the rest of the year, the group has now lost one of its core rotational options. While not a starter, the 29-year-old was a valuable part of the second lineup — in 2022 he was the next man up when Barmore missed time due to injury.
New England’s interior pass rush might be in need of an upgrade: Ekuale was not exclusively used on passing downs, but rushing the quarterback from the interior techniques was the defining trait of his game. Now, the Patriots are left a bit undermanned in that department — even with Christian Barmore being one of the most disruptive D-linemen in the league so far this season.
Moving forward, the Patriots might give rookie Keion White more opportunities inside, but he is 20 pounds lighter than Ekuale. Jeremiah Pharms Jr. might be a possible promotion candidate, but he is unproven and has yet to appear in a non-preseason game.
New England might therefore also explore the free agency and practice squad markets. Players such as Byron Cowart (Miami Dolphins PS) or Jonathan Ford (Green Bay Packers PS) might make sense as potential targets, as would recent free agency workouts Phil Hoskins and Manny Jones.
Five players now reside on IR-return: Theoretically, Ekuale is available to be brought back onto the active roster later this season even though the reported nature of his injury makes this unlikely. Nonetheless, he is now one of five players on injured reserve falling into that category: wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, offensive lineman Riley Reiff, and cornerbacks Jack Jones and Marcus Jones are also on IR-return.
Thornton, Reiff and Jack Jones are eligible to be reactivated in Week 5.
A spot on the 53-man roster is now open: With Ekuale now on injured reserve and no follow-up move made by the Patriots, a spot on the 53-man roster is now unoccupied. How it will be filled remains to be seen, with the aforementioned defensive line candidates as possibilities to be added.
Another option, of course, is the team leaving the spot open for the time being. With the aforementioned Tyquan Thornton, Riley Reiff and Jack Jones eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 5, the Patriots might decide it is best to wait before filling Ekuale’s old spot on the team.
In addition, special teamer Cody Davis and defensive end Trey Flowers will soon be in a position to be reactivated as well: the two reside on the physically unable to perform list, and as such could also return as early as Week 5.
CB William Hooper: Released from practice squad
Jonathan Jones might be close to a return: With the injury bug biting their cornerback group, the Patriots signed a bunch of players to serve as emergency depth and scout team options. Among them was undrafted rookie William Hooper, whose services are now no longer required — a potential sign that one of the injured CBs, veteran Jonathan Jones, might be close to a return.
A practice squad spot is now open: With Hooper released from the practice squad, the Patriots now have only 15 of 16 available spots filled. Bringing aboard a defensive tackle such as those mentioned above — i.e. free agents Phil Hoskins and Manny Jones — seems like a possible move the club might entertain.
New England gains cap space, temporarily: Releasing Hooper also removed his practice squad contract from the Patriots’ books. With him playing on a weekly base salary of $12,000, this means a total of $192,000 have now been freed up. Of course, any follow-up signings to the 53-man roster and practice squad will more than offset those gains.
The number of rookies decreases by one: Between their active roster and practice squad, the Patriots entered Week 4 with 15 rookie players under contract. Hooper’s release puts that number at 14, including three undrafted free agents: wide receiver/quarterback Malik Cunningham, wide receiver T.J. Luther, and cornerback Azizi Hearn. All of them are on the practice squad.