New England Patriots' rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld played like a stud during the preseason. In the regular season, he played more like a dud, as little of the potential he flashed in the preseason has carried over.
So it's not terribly surprising that he was waived by the Patriots on Thursday, the same day that the Patriots signed concussion-prone wide receiver Austin Collie. Both moves were reported by numerous sources, including NESN.com's Doug Kyed. (Sudfeld, should he clear waivers, would be eligible for the Patriots' practice squad.)
Fans eagerly awaiting the return of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, though, should not read into the tea leaves of this move. It is not at all a given that Gronkowski will make his 2013 debut this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
First off, the Patriots still do have two healthy tight ends in Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan. While neither is close to equaling Gronk's production over the past few seasons, they're enough for the moment.
The bigger problem is quite simply that the Patriots have numerous injuries all over the offensive side of the roster, and they had to make a move to address them.
Running back problems
The Patriots have four running backs on the roster—Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, and Leon Washington—as well as fullback James Develin. They also have Shane Vereen on in-season injured reserve.
Unfortunately, two of the five roster spots currently belong to players battling injuries: according to the Patriots' practice reports, Leon Washington has yet to play this season and is battling a thigh injury, while Stevan Ridley has not practiced this week with what Nick Underhill of MassLive.com reports is a "bruised lower thigh."
It's currently not clear whether either player will suit up on Sunday. Washington was inactive against the Falcons, so having one of them would leave them in the same boat as far as roster spots go.
Wide receiver woes
Things are similarly concerning at wide receiver. The Patriots have five "real" wide receivers on the roster: Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, and Kenbrell Thompkins. Three of those five are on the injury list: Amendola has been sidelined since Week 1 with a groin injury, and both Dobson (neck) and Thompkins (shoulder) have been limited this week. (Even if you counted special teams ace Matthew Slater as a wide receiver, he has a broken wrist and isn't practicing, either.)
Thus, the Patriots are down to two healthy receivers—Josh Boyce and the Julian Edelman (who is also injury prone). Cutting Sudfeld and signing Collie seems more like an "injury-necessitated" move than anything else; Sudfeld simply happened to be the low man on the totem pole at the moment.
How the Patriots manage injuries
The Patriots have already made one such move this season: they released cornerback Marquice Cole, who was injured, and promoted safety Kanorris Davis from the practice squad before their Week 4 game against the Falcons. After the game, they waived Davis and re-signed Cole.
They've also released players to manage injuries at other positions in the past. In 2011 the Patriots released wide receiver Taylor Price, a 2010 third-round pick, because they needed to promote center/guard Nick McDonald to the active roster to deal with injuries on the offensive line.
Thus, it is quite possible that the Patriots waived Sudfeld but still do not plan to play Gronkowski on Sunday. Since the Patriots are playing in Cincinnati, we'll know by Saturday night if Gronkowski (and Amendola) actually make the flight this week.