The New England Patriots have signed tight end Kellen Winslow and re-signed wide receiver Deion Branch to add depth to a pass-catching group that lost Aaron Hernandez to a right ankle injury.
The announcement Wednesday came three days after the tight end was hurt on the Patriots' third offensive play of their 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The Patriots have not said how many games they expect him to miss.
"I just met Kellen (Tuesday) for the first time, so I'm excited to get out there and practice with him," quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday. "Aaron has been a huge contributor for us and every time he's in there, he seems to be making plays. We'll see how it goes without him or with him, I don't know. It's just a matter of him feeling well enough to go out there and play."
Winslow was released by the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 1 after spending the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following five seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He had 75 receptions last season and has 437 in his career since being taken with the sixth pick of the 2004 draft out of Miami.
"We'll see how Kellen fits in," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before Wednesday's practice. "I've never coached him before, don't have any background with him, but (we) feel like he might have a chance to help us so that's why he's here.
The Patriots released Branch on the final roster cutdown after he caught 51 passes last season but kept his nameplate above his locker and his possessions inside it.
Branch said he drew interest from other teams but for family and other reasons he preferred the Patriots, although he wouldn't say if there was an understanding that New England would bring him back.
"The days I was off I was still working out," he said. "My agent was busy on the phone doing his job and I was doing my job. It was just all about the right time and the right place."
Branch is confident he'll fit right back into the offense.
"That's the goal and I'm sure the coaches are expecting it out of me and that's what I'm going to deliver," he said. "There's a couple of new plays. It shouldn't take long. It'll take a day or so. I'll be all right."
New England also re-signed linebacker Niko Koutouvides and released running back Lex Hilliard, linebacker Mike Rivera and wide receiver Greg Salas, who was obtained from the St. Louis Rams after Branch was cut.