Last off season Giants fans, along with the organization, were shocked when the New England Patriots acquired tight end Jake Ballard via waivers.
Ballard suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in his knee during the Super Bowl. The Giants knowing the tight end would not be healthy for the 2012 season decided to waive Ballard with a failed physical designation.
Waivers provide all teams in the league access to a player’s current contract with claiming priority determined by the inverse (worst-to-first) team’s record. By waiving Ballard the Giants created a needed roster spot, as they wanted to sign DT – Rocky Bernard. Once clearing the waiver wire Ballard would be placed on reserve/injured (IR) and not count against a roster spot. This was the only way to get Ballard onto IR without costing a spot since he was not a “vested veteran” and was subject to waivers at that time.
It is an unwritten rule that teams do not claim players who are waived do to an injury, besides who wants to pick-up an injured player? The last team with an opportunity to claim Ballard did so as the Patriots gained his rights.
Ballard was under a one-year contract worth $540,000 the minimum for his years accrued (earned) under NFL rules. The Patriots put Ballard on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list leaving him there for the year paying his 2012 salary.
By leaving Ballard on the PUP list for the entire season his contract got “tolled”. Which means that basically the past year’s contract was carried over into the next season. Article 20 (section 2) of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governs players who spend the last year of their contract on PUP:
Section 2. Physically Unable to Perform: … His contract will not be tolled for the period he is on PUP, except in the last year (emphasis added) of his contract, when the player’s contract will be tolled (emphasis added) if he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game.
While Ballard earned a season advance in salary he did not earn a season towards free agency. If he had not been picked off waivers the Giants would have placed him on IR paying the 2012 salary and Ballard would have also earned a season towards free agency, making him a restricted free agent (RFA) heading into 2013.
Since Ballard never earned that season, he never became a RFA, and remained the exclusive property of the Patriots under a one-year contract in 2013 for his minimum $630,000. If Ballard had become a RFA he probably would have gotten at least a $1.323 million 2013 salary, maybe more.
Reports are that Ballard has not performed well in Patriots camp and might be waived. The irony of this is the Giants could get Ballard back if he is waived and no other team with priority over them claims him. Not only would the Giants have Ballard back but they didn’t pay him for 2012, nor did he count on their salary cap, and because he was on PUP last year they would get him at a discount this season then if he had remained with the team on IR.
Only time will tell if the Giants have an opportunity to get Ballard back. If they do what was once seen as a negative would suddenly be an odd positive for the Giants.