By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - When the Patriots claimed injured Giants tight end Jake Ballard on Tuesday, the folks in New York were clearly bummed.
New York released Ballard to clear a roster spot for the team to re-sign defensive lineman Rocky Bernard.
The Giants hoped Ballard would pass through the league without anyone putting a claim on him. After all, Ballard tore an ACL in the Super Bowl and also had microfracture surgery. He would be of no help to anyone in 2012. Thirty teams passed. The Patriots didn't.
The Giants weren't happy. On Wednesday, head coach Tom Coughlin said, I certainly thought (Ballard would go unclaimed), for sure, Coughlin said. So did everybody. The whole building felt that way. Everyone did. It's obvious. It was a calculated risk that didn't work.
The Giants were kicking themselves, but there was no doubt a measure of agitation with the Patriots because every other team left Ballard alone. It's a professional courtesy, an unwritten rule (or expectation) that teams will stay away from players who are waived in order to pass them through to the practice squad or injured reserve.
Asked about the notion the Patriots breached an unwritten, Belichick said crisply, "First of all, there aren't any unwrittens."
He then deftly segued to inferring that the Giants may have been working on a deal for Ballard to return. He did so by pointing out that, of course the Giants wouldn't have been circumventing the rules by negotiating with a released player who was still in the waiver process.
"As you know, I'm sure you're aware you can't negotiate a contract (with a player), release him and then renegotiate a contract with him that was already done in advance, so I'm sure the Giants weren't doing that," said Belichick. "A player's on waivers, he's on waivers. Ours or anybody else's. I don't know what unwrittens you're talking about. Anytime you put a player on waivers, there's 31 other teams that can take him if they want him. We all know that. There's no secrets about that."
That doesn't mean that teams don't waive players with the strong hope that the player will go unclaimed. And it doesn't mean coaches won't pick up the phone and lobby opposing coaches to leave their waived players alone.
That's what Vikings coach Brad Childress said Belichick did in 2007 when New England waived tight end Garrett Mills.
Childress said on a Minnesota radio station that Belichick, "Didn't really care for (being told the Vikings wouldn't pass on claiming Mills). He was trying to leverage, but you always find out who is honest and straightforward."
The Patriots later claimed linebacker David Herron in what was viewed as a revenge move.
So why did the Patriots claim a player who can't play this year?
Well, they are light at tight end. Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells are still rehabbing injuries. Veteran Bo Scaife is a duct tape answer. And undrafted rookie Brad Herman just blew his Achilles last week. Defensive end Alex Silvestro has been taking reps at tight end during OTAs to give the Patriots enough bodies.
And while Ballard isn't going to fix that issue presently, tight end is clearly a lot more shallow than one who looks simply at the Patriots tight end production. It's a pivotal position in their offense and a varied one and the team had no backups to either spot in 2011.
Ballard has talent and can be a direct backup to Gronkowski. And he can compete with Fells for the third tight end role.
Ballard, meanwhile, sounds as if he didn't expect any of this to happen.
In a statement released through his agent, Ballard said, "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-lived, I will forever cherish all the great memories that we created during my time in a Giant uniform.
He added, "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."