The Patriots made official the signings of tight end Kellen Winslow, receiver Deion Branch and linebacker Niko Koutouvides and the release of receiver Greg Salas, RB Lex Hilliard and LB Mike Rivera.
The addition of Branch and Winslow were made to restore the pass-catching corps in the wake of tight end Aaron Hernandez going down with an ankle injury. He is expected to miss at least a few weeks.
One of the big storylines for Sunday night’s key matchup against the Ravens is the way the Patriots’ offense will look without Hernandez. It was stagnant for almost all of Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals after Hernandez went down.
Branch, 33 years old, was a surprise cut on August 31 when the New England Patriots trimmed their roster to 53 players, but his return wasn’t unexpected. His stall in the locker room had stayed intact since his release and he was at a team event over the weekend at which he announced he’d welcome a return.
A former Super Bowl MVP, Branch had spent 6 of his prior 10 seasons with New England, and was predicted to be in the mix near the apex of the receiver depth chart. He’ll enter back into that mix now, likely as the No. 4 option.
“That all depends upon the game plan and whatever the coaches have for me,” Branch said when asked about his role. “I’m going to do whatever they ask of me, if that be special teams, offense, defense, I am going to do that, as far as in the offense that comes with the game plan.” Basketball scores
Last season, Branch started 15 games, catching 51 passes for 702 yards and 5 touchdowns. He played in 76 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2011.
Winslow was spotted in the New England Patriots locker room, but declined to speak with reporters, saying he had plenty of work to do.
Winslow, 29 years old, brings lots of the same talents to the table as Hernandez. He’s an athletic tight end with good hands. This also allows New England to run its vaunted 2-tight end sets, with Winslow projected to team up with Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Winslow caught 75 passes for 763 yards and 2 touchdowns last season with the Buccaneers. He’s averaged 73 receptions for 792.3 yards the past 3 seasons.
The New England Patriots could have added the 31-year-old Koutouvides with a special-teams boost under consideration, as the team had several breakdowns in that area Sunday.
The veteran linebacker was with the team in training camp and appeared in the last 11 regular-season games last season for the club, in addition to three playoff contests. He played on all 4 of the core special-teams units — kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return.
Rivera, 26 years old, was signed to the Patriots’ practice squad in Nov 2011 and found a spot on the 53-man roster this season. He has played a special-teams role in each of the team’s 2 regular-season contests.
The team added Hilliard leading up the regular-season opener and served in a situational fullback role. Hilliard played 4 of the team’s 82 offensive snaps in Week Two.