This one hurts.
The New England Patriots took advantage of the Giants first truly damaging personnel move of the offseason yesterday when they grabbed TE Jake Ballard off waivers. The Giants had waived Ballard believing, in essence, that no one would claim a player who had very little, if any, hope of playing this season. Bill Belichick exploited the Giants’ faulty logic and can now add Ballard to his his well-stocked fleet of Pro-Bowl caliber tight ends.
CBS reported earlier this morning that it was a “calculated risk” that “went wrong”, said Tom Coughlin, referring to the team’s decision to put Ballard on waivers.
Coach Tom Coughlin wasn't eager to discuss the thought process behind putting TE Jake Ballard (ACL) on waivers, but did say it was a "calculated risk" that "went wrong." He said he was disappointed that the Patriots claimed him. When asked if New England was being underhanded in acquiring Ballard, Coughlin said "all is fair."Whether Belichick actually plans to use Ballard or this is a backhanded gut punch for the Patriots’ recent Super Bowl disappointments against Big Blue, I’m not entirely sure. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are two of the best TE’s in the league, which means that Ballard may be relegated to special teams duty by the time he returns from his injury.
Whatever the intent of the AFC East champs when they swiped Ballard, it’s bad news for Big Blue. Yes, Ballard, in theory, can be replaced by Martellus Bennett and yes, Big Blue has found ways of late to plug holes at his position, with Kevin Boss filling in for Jeremy Shockey and Ballard for Boss. But there’s no understating just how important Ballard was to the Giants Super Bowl run last season. He became one of Eli’s most reliable targets by season’s end, and his blocking—both at the line of scrimmage and downfield—kept Manning upright and opened up passing lanes.
While Ballard would have been forced to sit out this season, there’s no reason why he couldn’t replicate last year’s consistently brilliant play in 2013, only with a better, consistently developed understanding of the offense. It’s not every day that you find 6-foot-6, 275-lb TEs with Ballard’s speed, soft hands, blocking ability and well-grounded, sophisticated schematic knowledge and judgment.
Even before New England’s minor robbery yesterday, Big Blue was relying heavily on unproven commodities at TE for the upcoming season. Bennett and Travis Beckum have both gained weight this offseason, which, well, you can take as good or bad. Either way, one of those two players or—perhaps, maybe, hopefully?—rookie wunderkind Adrien Robinson will make an immediate impact.
Ballard’s departure has no direct impact on the Giants 2012 season. It’s as much an emotional blow as it is a physical one—at least in the immediate future—and the worst part is Belichick gets the last laugh.