FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — With his four-game “Deflategate” suspension completed, Tom Brady was eligible to step back into the New England Patriots’ team facility on Monday for the first time in a month.
But if he was there, no one was willing to say.
Only a handful of Brady’s teammates appeared in the locker room after attending position group meetings and none of them acknowledged laying eyes on their quarterback.
“I haven’t seen him yet,” receiver and special teams captain Matt Slater said.
“No,” tackle Nate Solder responded when asked if he’d run into No. 12.
Maybe receiver Chris Hogan happened to catch a glimpse?
“I haven’t seen him.”
Was he on the premises, at least?
“I can’t answer that question,” Slater said.
It’s possible Brady may have not been the building. Though both he and defensive end Rob Ninkovich — whose four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substance ended Monday — were allowed to be back, it’s unclear when the team must make room on its 53-man roster to accommodate their returns.
Coach Bill Belichick was less than forthcoming when he was asked that question during his teleconference Monday morning.
“I don’t have an exact answer for that right this second,” he said. “Why don’t you call the league and ask them? I’m sure they have the answers.”
The Patriots announced later that they released TE Clay Harbor. Harbor appeared in three games with New England, mainly on special teams, and did not register any statistics.
The players are off Tuesday, so if Brady and Ninkovich haven’t been officially activated yet, it appears Wednesday may be the earliest that would take place.
Whenever it happens, Slater said, the presence of their team leader would be welcomed as the Patriots turn their attention to Sunday’s trip to Cleveland.
“We know what type of player he’s been for this team. We know what type of leader he’s been for this team,” Slater said. “But all that being said, we all have a job to do with him here now. So we’re excited about the challenges that lie ahead.”
Solder said having their third different quarterback in the huddle in five games won’t affect their preparations.
“That doesn’t matter because we have a job,” Solder said. “We have to block the guys in front of us. It doesn’t matter who’s behind us. We got to do our job.”
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