Injured tight end Rob Gronkowski won’t be able to play for at least the first week of the regular season, but the New England Patriots are considering keeping him on the 53-man roster during final roster cuts Saturday.
The Patriots got started Friday by making 10 cuts. They released five veteran players in tight end Jake Ballard, defensive end Marcus Benard, tight end Daniel Fells, wide receiver Johnathan Haggerty and linebacker Mike Rivera.
They also cut five rookies, including four free agents, in offensive lineman Luke Patterson, fullback Ben Bartholomew, defensive lineman Gilbert Pena, offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch and defensive lineman Scott Vallone.
Gronkowski had offseason back and forearm surgery and was hoping to make it in time for the first game of the season. That is not likely to happen, and the earliest he’s likely to play is Week 3.
The tight end has been running and lifting weights at the team’s training facility but hasn’t practiced since late last season.
Retaining Gronkowski rather than putting him on the physically unable to perform list burns a roster spot that could signal the end of third-string quarterback Tim Tebow’s tenure with the Patriots. Tebow tossed two touchdowns Thursday in New England’s preseason finale.
With Gronkowski hurt and Aaron Hernandez jailed and awaiting arraignment on murder charges, Zach Sudfield has been the primary tight end for New England. He caught eight passes for 101 yards and a 22-yard touchdown reception in the preseason.
Sudfield is one of five receivers among the Patriots’ top six in preseason catches who weren’t on the roster in 2012. Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted free agent, led the Patriots with 15 catches for 166 yards in the preseason.
Sudfield, who, at 6-foot-7, 260 pounds and bears a physical resemblance to Gronkowski, was expected to be pushed by Ballard, the former New York Giants tight end who spent all of last season on injured reserve recovering from a torn ACL. But Ballard was released.
The Patriots signed Sudfield as an undrafted free agent from Nevada on May 3.