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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