Veteran presence after losing key leaders. With captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo landing on season-ending injured reserve, the Patriots lost not only two of their best players but also a steadying veteran presence. Enter the 34-year-old Carter, who was a similar type of veteran presence in his one season with the Patriots (2011).
Potential Carter for Buchanan swap. In the Patriots' 4-2-5 nickel and 4-1-6 dime packages, rookie Michael Buchanan has primarily been coming in as the right defensive end, moving end Chandler Jones (the team's best pass-rusher) to an interior rush position. Buchanan has lost containment in two of the last three games on third-down plays, which contributed to quarterback scrambles for first downs (the Bengals' Andy Dalton for 6 yards on third-and-5 and the Jets' Geno Smith for 14 yards on third-and-14). Carter's presence could be tied, in part, to the Patriots' search for a more consistent player in that role. Buchanan has played 28 snaps over the past three games, and while those numbers can always fluctuate, the lower playing time total in recent weeks reflects how this is not a full-time role.
Pass-rush considerations. While maintaining rush-lane integrity has been a struggle at times for Buchanan, there are also the bottom-line results of producing a pass rush. Carter helps in that area, too, as the Patriots are coming off a performance in which they didn't consistently get enough pressure on Smith, which contributed to a disappointing third-down showing. Carter can get after it.
Overall view of defensive end spot. The Patriots are playing starting ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on every snap. Buchanan and second-year player Jake Bequette are the backups. Carter adds depth and flexibility if the Patriots' coaching staff considers limiting the workload of Ninkovich and Jones, or moving Ninkovich to more of a linebacker role. This also makes one wonder if the coaching staff has concerns about the development of Bequette, a 2012 third-round draft choice.
Open roster spot. The Patriots have an open roster after waiving defensive tackle Andre Neblett on Monday. Thus, no corresponding roster move is needed to create room for Carter.