FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In a move that could pave the way for the return of running back Dion Lewis, the New England Patriots waived running back Tyler Gaffney on Thursday. Gaffney's release opens a spot on the 53-man roster that the Patriots will have to fill by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, per league rules.
The leading candidate is running back Lewis, who opened the season the physically unable to perform list and returned to practice for the first time on Oct. 27.
A Lewis-for-Gaffney swap was foreshadowed earlier Thursday. Gaffney, if he clears waivers, would likely be re-signed to the Patriots' practice squad, which has an open spot after defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was signed by the New York Jets on Tuesday.
Video: RB Dion Lewis gets in some work on the blocking sled. pic.twitter.com/UKO1zJhfGL— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 8, 2016
Teams that have "exception" players on their practice squad, as the Patriots do (for example, linebacker Trevor Reilly), are required to maintain a full, 53-man roster each week.
Specific to Lewis, the Patriots have until Thursday, Nov. 17 to decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve. But the latter option isn't part of the consideration, as it's always been a matter of "when," not "if," Lewis returns.
Gaffney's release seems to hint that Lewis' activation is coming Saturday, as that would be the latest the Patriots could make the move, which is part of their standard operating procedure to keep opponents guessing as long as possible.