FOXBORO -- The Patriots had a need, and they took to free agency to fill that need. But it's still somewhat unclear as to what they'll get in signing receiver Griff Whalen to the active 53-man roster.
The Patriots made the move on Thursday, releasing defensive tackle Darius Kilgo in order to clear a spot for the former Colts and Chargers wideout. Whalen, who has served as a slot receiver and a punt returner, could potentially slide into those roles with his new club -- particularly as Danny Amendola copes with an ankle injury.
"We'll see how it goes . . . Been more of an inside receiver," Bill Belichick said Friday. "Done some returning."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is in his fifth NFL season. He has caught 47 passes in 41 career games for 509 yards and three scores. He's also returned 46 punts and 29 kicks in his career.
Belichick indicated that while Whalen's returning experience made him an attractive option for them, he's not viewed solely as a returner. The Patriots have needs in the kicking game as well as at receiver with Amendola out. Whalen gives the team important depth offensively as its fourth healthy receiver -- to go along with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell -- and he provides some welcome experience as a punt returner.
Should the Patriots opt to go elsewhere in the return game against the Ravens this weekend, they could turn to Edelman or rookie Cyrus Jones. The issue there is that one of those options is perhaps the team's most valuable offensive player after Tom Brady, someone the coaching staff may not want to expose to high-impact collisions, and the other option has had difficulty with ball-security since turning pro this spring.
Asked if Whalen may have an easier time contributing on special teams than on offense after joining the Patriots at this late stage in the season, Belichick said sure.
"A lot fewer moving parts on that," he said.
The Patriots had the option of calling up a practice-squad receiver or utilizing someone like rookie running back DJ Foster -- who spent time in college as a receiver and has worked out with Patriots wideouts this year -- instead of signing Whalen. But it's Whalen's game-day experience that made him a valuable commodity for the Patriots.
"It's experience," Belichick said when asked how he chooses between a veteran from outside the team versus a younger practice-squad player who has been around the offense for months.
"And really the contrast of being in a system and moving up a little bit, or having been at that level but not having as much time in the system. It's a conversation that we've had, obviously. Sometimes I kind of feel like you know for sure you're making the right decision. Other times, you're kind of in a wait-and-see mode.
"It's what you feel like is best at that time, but in the end, is there a better way to go? I don't know. Until you get a player in that you haven't had before, it's hard to evaluate. At least the guys you have, you have an idea of where they are. You have to wait and see how they perform at the next level. Guys that aren't on your roster you sort of have to wait and see how it goes.
"We've been in that situation before this time of year. You know, Austin Collie a couple years ago. Guys like that. Just have to see how it works out. We'll see with Griff how it goes. We haven't had him before. Haven't had him in a camp. Haven't had him in our system so we'll see."