FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Eleven months ago, Bill Belichick seemed amused when asked a question about potentially breaking an "unwritten rule" by claiming injured tight end Jake Ballard on waivers from the Giants.
The long story short: The Giants were waiving Ballard with the intention of placing him on their PUP/reserve list because Ballard was recovering from microfracture knee surgery and a torn ACL suffered in the Super Bowl (against the Patriots), and wasn't expected to play in 2012. But because the Giants were making the move while teams had a 90-man roster limit, Ballard was subject to the waiver system before landing on PUP/reserve. The Patriots intercepted the move by claiming Ballard.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin called it "very disappointing" but made it clear he didn't harbor any ill feelings toward the Patriots. He called the move a "calculated risk [that] didn't work."
Belichick said simply that there are no unwritten rules on claiming injured players.
Still, that didn't stop some from questioning Belichick's decision. The Patriots already had a stocked depth chart topped by Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Daniel Fells, and they would later add Michael Hoomanawanui, so why did they even need Ballard?
This is why.
At the time of the waiver claim, June 12 of last year, Belichick couldn't have projected what his tight end depth chart would look like. The tight end personnel might have looked good at that moment, but in the physical game of football, an injury or unexpected turn of events could alter the picture at a position that is vital in the team's offense.
So Belichick weighed the cost of paying Ballard his 2012 salary of $540,000 while he rehabbed with the potential reward of seeing him on the field in 2013 when he'd earn a base salary of $630,000 (if he made the roster). He decided the investment of tight end insurance was worth it -- the only coach/personnel man in the NFL to do so -- and it's a move that is looking awfully smart right now as Gronkowski (left forearm/back) and Hernandez (shoulder) are rehabbing.
In Tuesday's organized team activity, Ballard's presence on the field was arguably the most notable storyline. It was the first clear-cut indication that his rehabilitation from serious knee surgery has gone well enough to put him in position to compete for a roster spot. At one point, he caught a pass from quarterback Tom Brady, and Brady yelled out his encouragement as the two are in the early stages of building a rapport.
Time will tell if Ballard emerges as a contributor for the Patriots, but the early indication is that this is another classic case of the forward-thinking Belichick building crucial depth on his roster.