EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The New York Giants were hoping Jake Ballard would clear waivers. And when he walked in to watch Tuesday's afternoon practice, it seemed as if he were back.
But the Giants took a risk by waiving Ballard after a failed physical to re-sign Rocky Bernard and they lost the tight end on Tuesday.
Ballard's agent, Blake Baratz, tweeted that the New England Patriots claimed the injured tight end, who could miss the entire season after microfracture and ACL knee surgery this offseason.
"As I stated yesterday a 'smart' football organization might claim @NYG_J_Ballard85 while he's hurt to own his rights," Baratz tweeted. "He's now a Patriot!"
Ballard stayed for the remainder of practice and could be seen talking to head coach Tom Coughlin at the end of practice. Afterward, the popular tight end said farewell to teammates in the locker room.
Baratz released a statement from Ballard:
"While this was very sudden and I am still experiencing a great deal of differing emotions, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and place some closure on a wonderful chapter in my life. I will greatly miss my teammates, the fans, the organization, and albeit short-Iived, I will forever cherish all the great memories that we created during my time in a Giant uniform.
"Simultaneously, I am humbled by the opportunity that the Patriots have afforded me and as I have always done, I will bring nothing but hard work, professionalism, and integrity to what is already a world class organization."
The Giants liked Ballard a lot and were hoping he would clear waivers. Ballard, who had a breakout season last year, would have then gone on the PUP/reserve list.
But the Patriots, who are stacked at tight end with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, know first-hand what Ballard is capable of. Ballard had four receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown during the Giants' 24-20 win in New England last November.
During the Super Bowl, Ballard had two catches for 10 yards before tearing his ACL. Ballard tried to return to the game by testing his knee on the sideline before crumpling down in pain.
Ballard, who had 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns last year, is scheduled to make a base salary of $540,000 this season. He has said that the best-case scenario would be a midseason return, but he also acknowledged that he could miss the entire season while recovering from his knee surgery.
The Giants still have tight ends Bear Pascoe, Martellus Bennett, Travis Beckum (who is recovering from his own torn ACL but began running on Tuesday), rookie Adrien Robinson, Christian Hopkins, Larry Donnell and Ryan Purvis on the roster.
There's no telling how Ballard will be once he returns to the field after microfracture knee surgery. But the Giants loved his potential before the injury and now have lost Ballard and Kevin Boss in the last two summers.
The Giants, though, showed that they can find a new tight end after losing Boss last year in free agency. And tight ends coach Mike Pope and Eli Manning were already in the process of trying to replace Ballard for this season since there was no guarantee he would play this year.
But it still had to be hard to say goodbye to Ballard so soon.