While Nate Ebner is at the Olympics, the Patriots will fundamentally have the luxury of an extra roster spot. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
The Patriots will have some addition roster flexibility over the course of the next couple of months.
Quarterback Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season, while defensive back/special teamer Nate Ebner will be gone for the next month-plus because of his Olympic commitment. While it’s unclear how long Ebner will be off the radar screen, in both cases, neither player will count against the 53-man roster limit. That means the Patriots could have some additional options when it comes to September cuts, and give some hope to players who might be on the roster bubble, at least in the short-term.
First and foremost, the absence of Brady over the first four games will cause plenty of speculation about the value of adding an addition quarterback for depth purposes for the first quarter of the 2016 campaign. Off course, that could all be rendered moot if rookie Jacoby Brissett is able to show he’s ready to back up Jimmy Garoppolo, at least on a part-time basis.
While it’s unclear when Ebner will be good to go, it’s expected he’ll start training camp on the reserve list. While the franchise could theoretically add another player at a different position, it’s worth keeping an eye on the likes of safety/linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill when it comes to filling that spot. Ebner wasn’t around for the spring workouts, but the Grugier-Hill appeared to handle some of Ebner’s old responsibilities. Once the Patriots hit the field later this month, it will be interesting to see how much the rookie is asked to do, especially when he lines up alongside the likes of core special teamers like Matthew Slater and Brandon King.
One more thing to remember: There’s a danger of locking into a specific school of thought that says if the team is going to lose a someone at one position for a stretch, they need to add a new body at the same position. And while that might still be the case, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them add more depth at a different position of need, at least until Brady and/or Ebner return.
Bottom line? Don’t get tricked into a traditional mode of thinking when it comes to the Patriots and the team-building process. They have some roster options and flexibility, and it’ll be intriguing to see how the team utilizes those elements over the next month-plus.