The Patriots' plan at tight end remains a mystery

The Patriots' plan at tight end remains a mystery

The “what does it meeeeaaaaannnnnnsssssss??????” were flowing Monday afternoon after the Patriots took a pass on putting Ben Watson on their football team.

The Patriots had until Monday at 4 p.m. to activate Watson after he missed the first four games of the season with a PED suspension.

They passed. No vacancy. Dropping someone from their roster in favor of a soon-to-be-39-year-old wasn’t what they wanted to do. So off he goes. But it’s weird.

A guy who caught 95 passes over the previous two seasons now can’t wedge his way onto a team with two tight ends (Matt Lacosse and Ryan Izzo) who’ve combined to make seven catches in the first five games? Neither, it’s worth noting, is showing signals of being the next Marv Cook. Or even Eric Bjornson.

Meanwhile, the quarterback’s banging against the bars and screaming for the guards to bring him some experienced receivers.

There’s a designated punt catcher – Gunner Olszewski – three dedicated special teams coverage guys – Matt Slater, Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards (added last week), a third quarterback and other assorted guys who don’t play a whole helluva lot but someday might (Byron Cowart, Jermaine Eleuminor, Deatrich Wise, Terrence Brooks).

No room for a tight end with experience and a little bit left in the tank? No space in the huddle for a guy who’s been around and seen some things? Color me surprised.

But I’ll defer. I didn’t think Watson looked exceptional during training camp practices and preseason games.

Maybe the Patriots felt he didn’t have it anymore.

Or maybe there’s something burbling at some other position and they can’t spare the depth. Not even for the guy Tom Brady spent a portion of almost every training camp practice working 1-on-1 with.

They know better than any of us on that.

But it’s not overstepping to point out for the 374th time that this team absolutely butchered the Gronk succession plan at tight end.

For a team that prides itself on being a year too early rather than a year too late in making adjustments, did they not figure a Hall of Fame-level talent leaving their offense would create a void?

The player had been sending off retirement signals since 2016. He was injured every year. The Patriots tried to trade him prior to the 2018 season. And in all that time, who’d they bring in via the draft?

Izzo. A seventh-rounder in 2018. That’s all. That’s it.

Meanwhile, 56 tight ends were taken in the last four drafts combined.

Seven of the drafted tight ends in 2017 had 20 or more catches, and four had more than 30. They were led by the Jets' Chris Herndon and Carolina’s Ian Thomas. They were both fourth-round picks. The 2017 crop included three first-rounders, Evan Engram of the Giants and Tampa’s O.J. Howard. They have 257 receptions between them. The most productive pass-catching tight end from that draft is George Kittle, a fifth-rounder from Iowa who’s made 131 catches for 1,892 yards.

In 2016, there were no first-round tight ends but San Diego’s Hunter Henry (81 catches, 1,057 yards in 2016 and ’17) and Atlanta’s Austin Hooper (139 catches, 1,457 yards in three years) were both third-round picks.

The plan this past offseason first was Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. He was released in June for personal reasons. Next, it was Watson who the team lured out of retirement. Then there was Lance Kendricks. There was a guy named Eric Saubert here that I totally forgot about.

The team swung and missed trying to get Jared Cook. They weren’t in on Jesse James before he went to Detroit.

Their inability to populate the spot would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact they also had a bleak offseason trying to get wideouts, cycling through Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington, Dontrelle Inman and Demaryius Thomas while failing to secure the services of Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley.

It was the need for pass catchers that led the Patriots into the web of Antonio Brown. They got 24 snaps from him and are left with litigation and a 2019 cap hit of $5,558,333.00.

Releasing Watson gives the team a little more cap relief which they can use if they try to swing a deal before the trade deadline but if they weren’t carrying the stupid $5.5M from Brown, they wouldn’t have to screw with that.

Clearly, Watson’s bummed out about the decision. He resettled here, he’s got six-month-old twins among his seven children and the Patriots waited until the end of his suspension to let him know he wasn’t part of their plans. The concussion he suffered in the third preseason game occurred on August 23. They dragged it out as long as they possibly could before letting him go.

And then they did. By the end of this month, the Patriots will do something to try and better staff the tight end and/or wide receiver spots. That’s a guarantee.

But it’s all stuff that could have and should have been done closer to April Fool’s Day, not Halloween.

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This reported NFL travel request would be brutal for Patriots' itinerary

This reported NFL travel request would be brutal for Patriots' itinerary

The New England Patriots' extended December stay in Los Angeles seemed like a great idea. Then COVID-19 came along.

The Patriots are scheduled to play at the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 6 and at the L.A. Rams on Thursday, Dec. 10. The team actually requested to play its two L.A. games back-to-back so it could spend the short week in Southern California rather than making an extra cross-country trip.

The coronavirus pandemic may throw a wrench in those travel plans, however. According to NBC Sports' Peter King, the NFL plans to "to strongly urge teams not to stay on the road that long, despite the inconvenience for the teams involved."

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Per King, clubs hoping to spend a week on the road between games will need to file detailed infectious disease emergence response (IDER) plans that both the NFL and the NFL Players Association would need to approve before allowing them to travel.

That's an extra hoop to jump through, but the Patriots might want to do it anyway. If they don't stay in L.A. between games, they'd have to take a red-eye flight from L.A. landing in Boston on Monday, Dec. 7, only to turn around two days later and fly back out mid-day Wednesday.

King noted the NFL might have to "bend" its travel recommendation for New England, which is the only team among the eight clubs playing back-to-back road games on the opposite coast that also has to play on a short week.

Still, travel could be a major issue for the NFL after several Major League Baseball teams had to cancel games this past week due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the Miami Marlins. Five of the Patriots' eight road games in 2020 are in another time zone -- including three on the West Coast -- so this is a development worth following.

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (Aug. 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)