FOXBORO -- The Patriots' most versatile weapon may be in disrepair for a while. Aaron Hernandez had his lower right leg rolled up on a second-and-9 play with 7:03 left in the first quarter. Hernandez was blocking downfield for Julian Edelman on the left sideline when Edelman was tackled into Hernandez's leg. Hernandez was announced as having an ankle injury and his return was deemed questionable. Watching the replay, it did appear that Hernandez avoided a compound fracture which occurs when the leg or ankle completely gives and the bone snaps. The concern immediately becomes that Hernandez suffered a high ankle sprain and will be sidelined for an extended period. Last season, Hernandez missed two games with a sprained MCL and, even after his return, took some time to round back into form. The Patriots' reliance on Hernandez's versatility is well-documented. He lines up at wideout, tight end, slot receiver and in the backfield. The Patriots won't be crippled by his absence, given the array of weapons they have. But he's so unique there is no direct backup to him.
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FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard.
As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban.
Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.
Congratulations to Alan Branch on having his 4 game suspension rescinded. The @NFL doesn't always do the right thing, but they did this time— Blake Baratz (@blakebaratz) December 3, 2016
Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week.
Good news came quickly, though.
Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played.
The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended.
By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.
A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here.
Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.