FOXBORO, Mass. — If the New England Patriots want tight end Ben Watson to play Sunday, they must active him by Saturday at 4 p.m.
Watson was suspended for the first four weeks of the season, and the Patriots received a roster exemption for the 38-year-old tight end Monday.
To activate Watson, the Patriots will need to open a spot on their currently full 53-man roster. The most logical player to cut was third quarterback Cody Kessler, who signed with the Patriots last Wednesday, but some comments from Bill Belichick on Friday make it sound like Kessler might stick around.
“Yeah, Cody’s done a nice job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s really smart. He’s come in here. He’s learned — I mean, he’s out there calling plays, signaling receivers, making adjustments like he’s been here longer than two weeks or whatever it is. So, he’s picked things up very quickly. He has a good rapport with all of the players. He’s willing to do whatever we ask him to do. He works extremely hard.
“(Rookie Jarrett) Stidham’s made a lot of progress and continues to. (Starter Tom Brady’s) had a — gives us obviously a lot of great leadership out there and energy on the field. It’s not really a management thing. They’re all contributing. I’m glad they’re all on the team. We only have to play one, but that’s — you never know.”
Brady was limited with a calf injury in sporadic practices leading up to Weeks 3 and 4. He’s avoided the injury report since last Wednesday, however. It was theorized the Patriots signed Kessler for situations like those when Brady was limited in practice and the team still needed two fully healthy quarterbacks to run their offense and scout team.
If the Patriots don’t cut Kessler, they’ll either need to release another player or leave Watson on the exempt list. It is unknown if Watson’s exemption ends Saturday or a week after it was initiated, which would be Monday, Sept. 7. Watson wasn’t spotted at practice Wednesday, which puts his status for Sunday against the Washington Redskins in doubt.
The most recent additions to the Patriots’ roster are safety Jordan Richards and kicker Mike Nugent. Richards could be an option for release. The Patriots also could elect to cut one of their two tight ends, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, both of whom have failed to make a significant mark through four games.
UPDATE (12:30 p.m. ET): Watson’s exemption expires Monday. For Watson to play Sunday, the Patriots would need to lift his exemption by Saturday at 4 p.m. They could hold off and lift it on Monday, however, if he won’t play Sunday regardless. If the Patriots don’t lift Watson’s exemption by Monday, he would be released.