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Jake Ballard move now looms large for Pats

Above: Jake Ballard scores against Tracy White of


Above: Jake Ballard scores against Tracy White of the New England Patriots in the second half. (Nov. 6, 2011)
(Credit: Getty Images)

At the time of the transaction, it seemed as if Bill Belichick was more interested in tweaking the Giants than anything else. Why bother claiming injured tight end Jake Ballard on waivers - knowing full well that Ballard would miss the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury - when Belichick already had two of the best tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. 

That move doesn't look so crazy now, does it?

A little more than a year after claiming Ballard on June 12, 2012, the former Giants tight end might very well be the Patriots' opening day starter this season. Gronkowski is out several more weeks after undergoing back surgery (not to mention multiple operations to repair a fractured forearm) and Hernandez is now caught up in a murder investigation that could result in him missing part or all of the season. Or more. 

Ballard suffered a torn ACL in the Giants' Super Bowl win over the Patriots in Indianapolis after the 2011 season, and the Giants intended to put him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. But in order to do so, they had to put him through waivers, a move they felt would work because teams around the league knew Ballard would almost certainly miss the entire 2012 season. 

But that didn't deter Belichick, who claimed him and put him on the Patriots' roster, knowing full well this would be an insurance policy that wouldn't kick in until the 2013 season. And even then, there were no assurances, since Gronkowski and Hernandez were still young players approaching their prime years. 

Looks like Belichick made yet another slick move this time, and Ballard might very well turn into Tom Brady's go-to guy once the regular season starts. 

Ballard played a prominent role in the Giants' 24-20 upset of the Patriots in Foxboron on Nov. 6, 2011. On the Giants' winning drive, Ballard made a one-handed 28-yard catch on third-and-10 with :51 left and then caught the deciding touchdown on a one-yard reception with 17 seconds left. 

Ballard suffered his knee injury in the Super Bowl, which the Giants won, 21-17. 

Ballard looked solid in the Patriots' OTA workouts over the spring, and he appears close to full strength. 

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