Patriots use PUP list to advantage
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the day of the NFL trade deadline, the New England Patriots added three potential starters to the practice field. The cost? Nothing but patience.
Three thousand miles away, the Oakland Raiders gave up a small ransom (potentially two first-round picks) to land holdout quarterback Carson Palmer, a move that highlighted the smattering of deadline activity.
Patriots personnel director Nick Caserio had noted Monday that his team would be content to move forward with the roster it had. Sure enough, New England's roster juggling Tuesday was limited to re-signing a depth cornerback (Phillip Adams) and starting the clock on three players on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
Let's remember that running back Kevin Faulk and defensive linemen Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick were all starters at one point for last season's 14-2 team. Each must prove he is healthy enough to return to action, then carve out a role on this season's squad, which has improved depth at both positions.
The PUP additions highlight another instance of how the Patriots took advantage of roster flexibility to put themselves in position to improve near the midpoint of the season.
Each September, New England is forced to make tough decisions about how to craft its 53-man active roster. Putting Faulk, Brace and Deaderick on the PUP list to start the 2011 campaign meant they couldn't practice with the team or play for the first six games of the season.
The upside: Additional recovery time for those on the PUP list afforded New England three roster spots to keep additional talent at the start of the season. Now, as the roster has been thinned by injuries, this trio has potential to provide a midseason boost without the integration pains that come with bringing in a player from outside the organization.
Could the Patriots have used Faulk, assuming he was healthy, through the first six games of the season? Of course. An injury to primary punt returner Julian Edelman meant Wes Welker had to field punts -- not the ideal situation for the league's top pass-catcher.
Could the Patriots have used Brace or Deadrick? Absolutely. Even after an influx of talent in the offseason, the team lost Myron Pryor (shoulder) and Mike Wright (concussion) to season-ending injured reserve, while Albert Haynesworth (back), Kyle Love (back) and Shaun Ellis (knee) all have battled maladies.
The PUP list is a calculated risk. And it takes a great deal of acceptance throughout the organization -- from an owner footing the $2.53 million price tag in combined salaries for those three players to the players themselves biting the bullet, knowing full well there was a chance they could have been on the field sooner.
But assuming Faulk, Brace and Deaderick can get on the field and carve out roles, the Patriots could be rewarded handsomely for their patience.
Faulk started two games at the beginning of the 2010 season before tearing an ACL. With more than a year of recovery time, the challenge for the 35-year-old is finding a role. The Patriots drafted two backs with high picks in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, crowding a depth chart topped by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
Faulk, the longest-tenured player on the Patriots' roster, still can be a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, and his knowledge of the system should ease his return to the field.
"I'm not really concerned about the health issue," Faulk said. "I'm just concerned about going out there and practicing and not messing up too much."
Brace, a second-round pick (40th overall) in 2009, suffered a season-ending elbow injury in a Week 16 win in Buffalo last season. It was the latest setback in a slow start to his NFL career. After appearing in just nine games his rookie season, Brace failed his conditioning test at the start of 2010, setting him back right out of the gate.
Now Brace, who figures to compete for an interior spot in New England's base 4-3 defense, must work his way into a rotation that already features Love, Haynesworth, Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. For now, he's simply eager to get on the field and test the elbow.
"I've still got to find out where I'm going to fit in with this D-line," Brace said. "Again, I haven't had a snap since Dec. 26, so I have a lot of catching up to do."
Deaderick, a seventh-round pick (247th overall), made five starts in his rookie season, including a postseason loss to the New York Jets (although he was suspended by the team during the playoff bye week). He served as an end in New England's 3-4 defense last season but has the versatility to move across the line.
Reflecting on Deaderick's time at Alabama, coach Bill Belichick noted, "He played end, he played tackle, he played nose -- in their four-man line, he played outside [and] he played inside. I think you could look at the Alabama tape and you could see him pretty much playing everywhere -- left side, right side, inside, outside."
With the clock started on all three players Tuesday, the Patriots have up to three weeks to activate them. The team has an open spot on the 53-man roster that it could fill with one of the three before a Week 8 visit to Pittsburgh. Or the Patriots could wait as long as after a Week 9 visit from the Giants before making a move with any of the threesome.
Either way, the Patriots have three new chips in their pocket. And unlike other teams at the deadline, they didn't have to give any up.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.