The New England Patriots claimed rookie running back Tyler Gaffney off waivers Monday, meaning the Carolina Panthers received one play from their sixth-round pick from the May draft.
Gaffney tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee on his first play of Friday’s Fan Fest. He was scheduled for season-ending knee surgery as early as this week.
The Panthers could have kept Gaffney on the 90-player camp roster to protect a player they drafted and rewarded with a $96,000 signing bonus. But with running back Jonathan Stewart sidelined for two to four weeks with a pulled hamstring, general manager Dave Gettleman said he needed the roster spot for another running back. The Panthers signed former Cleveland Browns back Fozzy Whittaker on Sunday.
“The bottom line is Tyler’s injury is a season-ender. It’s not a little tear that could be scoped and he’d be back in three weeks. This was a legitimate, season-ending injury,” Gettleman said. “We have Jonathan Stewart, who’s not practicing, and we needed the roster spot. Plain and simple.”
So the Panthers waived-injured Gaffney, who would have reverted to injured reserve and not counted against the roster had he cleared waivers.
But the Patriots had other ideas, just as they did when they claimed injured New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard in 2012. Gettleman was a member of the Giants’ front office when New England snagged Ballard.
“This is a very competitive business, and people are going to try to improve their team within the rules,” Gettleman said. “And this is within the rules.”
Gettleman was asked if he was upset with the Patriots’ claim of Gaffney.
“It’s business,” he said.
Gaffney ran for 2,500 yards in 49 games at Stanford. After taking off a year to play minor league baseball, Gaffney returned to Stanford last season and rushed for 21 touchdowns, which led the Pac-12 and was fifth nationally.
He missed the Panthers’ rookie minicamp while finishing his classes, but he participated in the veteran minicamp last month. Coach Ron Rivera called him a “workhorse” back whose rugged running style reminded him of Stewart.
Said Gettleman: “This has nothing to do with him as a player. This had everything to do with the injury situation with him and the position.”