The New England Patriots had struggled through the first four weeks to find consistency at the tight end position in the post-Gronk era. But with veteran Benjamin Watson’s suspension lifted making him available for Week 5, New England saw a resurgence at that position.
Only one thing: Watson was never activated for Week 5’s victory over Washington, leaving Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo to share snaps and ultimately thrive. With the Patriots given a roster exemption for Watson, they had an extra week to decide whether or not to activate him for their game against Washington which they ultimately did not.
That left New England until 4 p.m. on Monday to either activate or release the veteran tight end. And according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the Patriots will not be activating the veteran tight end.
During the open locker room session available to the media around 3:30 p.m., Watson quickly stated he had not been activated and would address the media on Tuesday.
Following that brief exchange, Watson cleaned out his locker with media present for a period of 10 minutes before departing with cleats in hand. Although he wasn’t activated, Watson does want to finish out the season and is looking for a new team, according to Ian Rapoport.
Patriots’ Extra Cap Space
Watson was brought in during the offseason for what was likely slated to be his final year in the NFL. The 38-year-old, who spent the early part of his career in New England from 2004-09, contemplated retirement following the 2018 season but ultimately decided to return for one more year where he started his professional career.
He was enthusiastic about the chance to play for the Patriots again, listing New England as one of his preferred destinations at the outset. At the end of the day, Watson did not do enough to earn a roster spot and expressed his disappointment on social media.
After being dealt a four-game suspension then suffering a concussion in the Patriots’ third preseason game, Watson’s season was delayed and ultimately never got off the ground. The move means New England will eat about $600K but save an additional $2 million in cap space without Watson’s contract, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.
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Patriots Depth at Tight End
With Watson out of the picture, the Patriots appear to be content with their two tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse without the need for a third.
In the three games LaCosse has played for New England, running back Sony Michel and the rest of the Patriots backfield has thrived thanks to his blocking and ability to open holes. LaCosse was used primarily as a run blocker early in his career until seeing a heavier involvement in the receiving game last year in Denver.
This year, LaCosse has three catches for 55 yards in a limited role given his lingering ankle injury. But it seems LaCosse has shrugged that off playing 73 snaps (94 percent) at Washington in a vital blocking role.
As for Izzo, he has four catches for just 83 yards including a wide-open touchdown reception at Washington for his first professional score. After seeing nearly 60 percent of the snaps consistently through four weeks, Izzo’s participation dipped to just 20 snaps (26 percent) against the Redskins though he made the most of his opportunity by showing versatility as a blocker and route-runner.
In case of emergency, the Patriots have Jason Vander Laan on the practice squad. The former quarterback at Division II Ferris State, he has spent parts of four seasons with NFL organizations in various roles.
Replacing Gronkowski Hasn’t Been Easy
Since Rob Gronkowski retired in March, it has been a revolving door for tight ends vying to be his replacement. To make things tougher, it was a complete turnover at the position with Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister also departing.
At the outset, Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins appeared an adequate duo with LaCosse and Izzo also likely to fill possible roles. But a personal issue forced Seferian-Jenkins to cut ties with the Patriots and a suspension meant Watson’s likely-final season would be delayed.
That left New England to get creative, signing Lance Kendricks and Andrew Beck then trading for Eric Saubert from Atlanta. Kendricks was subsequently dealt a suspension for one game then released while Beck and Saubert were cut out of training camp along with last year’s practice squad tight end Stephen Anderson.