Belichick says the IR-DTR spot is still an option for Patriots


The Patriots could use some reinforcements.

They just lost Rex Burkhead with a knee injury, though that injury could've been worse. They've been without linebacker Kyle Van Noy for a couple of weeks. Alan Branch missed Sunday's matchup in Pittsburgh, and Le'Veon Bell ran for almost five yards per attempt.

Bill Belichick has an opportunity to bring a healthy contributor on board, but he has not done so yet. All teams this season have been given the opportunity to bring two players back to the 53-man active roster from injured reserve, and the Patriots still have one of those slots available to them. (They designated Shea McClellin to come back earlier this season, but he was not ready by the time his 21-day window to be activated closed.)

It's getting late in the game at this point, with just two regular-season games remaining on the schedule. But Belichick hasn't ruled out using that final IR-DTR parachute.

"It's still available for us," he said on Tuesday. "If we feel like it was something that could help us and there was an opportunity to use it, we would use it. It's still an option."

The Patriots only have a couple of options, it seems, when it comes to who could receive the designation to return. Both Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine are in the running. Both have shown good improvement at different points this season. Both remain inactive. 

The Patriots could simply be waiting to see further improvement from either one. They could also wait to use the designation based on the injury situation at either the receiver or defensive tackls spots. For instance, if something should happen to the tackle group that would alter its rotations moving forward, and if Valentine were healthy enough, he could be the choice. The depth is better at receiver at the moment, especially with Kenny Britt now in the mix, but that could change in a week.

Some fans have wondered if Dont'a Hightower could potentially make a return off of a torn pec that landed him on IR earlier this season. Technically, he could. But the odds seem extremely low. Pectoral tears require four-to-six months to heal, according to Dr. Jess Flynn, meaning sometime in February would be the earliest he could realistically make a return. Plus, Hightower told WEEI earlier this month that he's looking ahead to next year to make his comeback.

"I feel great," he said. "I can’t complain where I am at. I am ahead of schedule. Just doing what doc asks me to do. Just grinding and looking forward to getting back next year."

Others on IR include Martellus Bennett, Marcus Cannon, Nate Ebner, Julian Edelman, Cyrus Jones and Derek Rivers. Edelman, Jones and Rivers aren't eligible to return as they were placed on IR before the start of the regular season. Cannon is not eligible because he will not have spent enough time on IR in order to qualify for the return designation. Belichick recently confirmed that Ebner will not return this season, and Bennett is also expected to remain out.


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