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The Patriots on Thursday afternoon announced the signing of wide receiver Austin Collie, a move that had been reported by ESPN Boston’s Field Yates earlier when Collie was spotted at the team’s morning practice. The roster move came in conjunction with two others: the expected placement of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on his torn Achilles tendon and the more surprising release of rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld.
The 27-year-old Collie was a fourth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2009 Draft, after leading the nation in receiving yards as a junior at BYU. He was very good as a rookie, scoring seven touchdowns on 60 receptions while playing every game, and his sophomore season was shaping up to be even better before his injury woes began: he had eight TDs and 58 catches in just nine games before two concussions knocked him out for the year.
Collie bounced back in 2011, once again playing all 16 games and recording 54 receptions, although with just one score. Last year, a ruptured patellar ligament forced him to miss nearly the entire season. As a free agent this offseason, he signed with the 49ers but was released during final roster cuts, after getting just four catches all preseason.
Collie hasn’t played in a regular season game since September 23, 2012, and his health is anything but guaranteed, but he has proven his worth as an NFL-caliber receiver, and could be an important contributor if he can stay on the field. Given the complexities of the Patriots’ playbook, he shouldn’t be expected to be a huge part of the offense this Sunday at Cincinnati. But with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski still questionable, and with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both showing up on the injury report this week, Collie provides some depth, along with the potential to be a key part of the offense going forward.
The 24-year-old Sudfeld, for his part, hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations created after a very promising preseason. The undrafted free agent out of Nevada was impressive in training camp, to the point that some thought he would become a favorite target of Tom Brady‘s in Gronkowski’s absence. But he hasn’t panned out in the regular season, failing to record a single reception in the three games he’s played.
Sudfeld is eligible to be signed to the practice squad once he clears waivers. For the time being, though, the focus is elsewhere, as his release has prompted speculation that Gronkowski could be returning this weekend, even though reports last week said he would wait until the Week 6 game against the Saints.