The New England Patriots claimed former Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney off waivers Monday.
ESPN insider Adam Schefter reported the news and pointed out an interesting personnel parallel from the Pats' past:
Mike Persinger of The Charlotte Observer analyzed New England's maneuver:
Tyler had a real good year last year. Went to Stanford and then was in baseball for a year, had a good year last year. I think he's a good all-around back that we wanna work with. He was available, we'll see how it plays out.
First of all, there aren’t any unwrittens. As you know . . . you can’t negotiate a contract with a player while he’s under contract. You can’t negotiate a contract, release him and then re-negotiate another contract with him that was already done in advance . . . So a player is on waivers, then he’s on waivers -- ours or anybody else’s.
Any time you put a player on waivers, you know there are 31 teams out there that can take him if they want him. We all know that. There’s no secrets about that.
Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer provided a statement from Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman regarding Gaffney's departure Monday:
The bottom line is Tyler's injury is a season-ender. It's not a little tear that could be scoped and he'd be back in three weeks. This was a legitimate, season-ending injury. We have Jonathan Stewart, who's not practicing, and we needed the roster spot. Plain and simple.
This is a very competitive business, and people are going to try to improve their team within the rules. And this is within the rules... It's business.
On Tuesday, Person provided a statement from Panthers head coach Ron Rivera regarding Gaffney:
Gaffney ran for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns on 330 carries in his final year at Stanford in 2013. Even with that wear and tear and a backfield already boasting solid depth, the Carolina Panthers selected Gaffney in the 2014 NFL draft with the No. 204 overall pick in the sixth round.
Unfortunately, Gaffney's stint with the team was short-lived, as he tore his left lateral meniscus in practice and was declared out for the season, per the Panthers' official Twitter account:
"It happened on a running play – my only running play," said Gaffney, per Panthers.com's Bryan Strickland. "It just felt loose. It hurt a little bit, but nothing that bad. I've hurt worse. I wasn't too concerned."
Gaffney also took to Twitter to express appreciation for how Carolina fans embraced him after the injury:
Going from a winning Cardinal program to the reigning NFC South champions had to be an exciting opportunity for Gaffney until it was cut short. But talk about a consolation for the disappointment of his already-ended rookie season.
The Patriots boast perhaps the best organization in the league in terms of their consistency and winning tradition over the last decade-plus. Guided by the leadership of coach Bill Belichick and prolific quarterback Tom Brady, New England has won AFC East division titles in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
Although Belichick has a reputation for making cold, calculated decisions on players, it appears this investment in Gaffney may be with the Pats' backfield future in mind.
Following the 2014 campaign, both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will reach the end of their respective rookie contracts, slated to become unrestricted free agents. Injuries have hampered Vereen; fumble problems have kept Ridley on the fringes of Belichick's doghouse.
Brandon Bolden will be a restricted free agent (h/t Spotrac) but likely won't be a priority to keep.
That means Brady could be handing it off to both Gaffney and rookie fourth-round pick James White the majority of the time in 2015. White has a similar nose for the end zone as Gaffney does, scoring double-digit touchdowns on the ground in three of his four years at Wisconsin.
A timeshare between those two would be mutually beneficial. White grew especially accustomed to that alongside Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball with the Badgers. The decreased workload would allow Gaffney to ease his way back into football upon his return.
White is a more diminutive back but a superior receiving threat than the more powerful Gaffney has proved to be. It seems like a perfect complement of skills on paper, provided it plays out that way and the Pats don't retain the likes of Vereen, Ridley or both.
Once again, it seems the Patriots are ahead of the league curve and are poised for their usual, perpetual success. Of course, it also helps to have such solid bedrocks in Belichick and Brady at the two most vital spots of NFL stability.
What appeared to be a nightmare scenario for Gaffney has suddenly turned into a brand-new situation. With a bright silver lining and plenty of optimism to look forward to, Gaffney ought to push hard through rehabilitation and back on the field to make a considerable impact next season.