The deadline approached, the deadline came, the deadline passed — and the New England Patriots did not do anything. The club had until 4:00pm on Monday to activate tight end Benjamin Watson to its 53-man roster following his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs, but instead opted to part ways with him after a one-week period during which he was granted a roster exemption.
With the veteran now released, the Patriots’ tight end depth chart remains unchanged: free agency acquisition Matt LaCosse and second-year man Ryan Izzo are the one-two punch at the position, with fullback Jakob Johnson — an undrafted rookie filling in for an injured James Develin — as the de facto third option behind them. The group may lack any big names, but it certainly seems as if it enjoys the coaching staff’s trust.
Watson would have brought tremendous experience as both a pass catcher and a blocker to the table, after all, but he apparently did not show enough over the past week (and before that) to be kept around alongside or over the younger and cheaper LaCosse and Izzo. For Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, however, the decision to move on from the 38-year-old came down to simple roster management as he pointed out on Monday.
“We only have so many roster spots,” Belichick said during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni and Fauria show shortly after the move was made official. “If we put somebody on, we have to take somebody off. Right now, there wasn’t a roster spot. We didn’t feel like there was somebody we could create a roster spot with. Everybody came out of the game healthy. We have a decent team. So I think that’s where we’re at.”
With Watson now gone, LaCosse and Izzo will run the show at tight end and the duo is coming off arguably its best collective performance of the season: LaCosse was on the field for 73 of 78 offensive snaps and caught a 22-yard pass on Sunday against the Washington Redskins; Izzo played 20 snaps and finished with two receptions for a combined 39 yards and a touchdowns — all while both saw considerable action as blocker as well.
The numbers don’t necessarily stand out, but they are a step in the right direction compared to the first four games of the season. LaCosse seems to agree with that assessment as he told NESN’s Doug Kyed on Monday: “[There is] a good amount of confidence. We still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go — I think there’s a lot of potential to be a lot better. We look forward to the future.”
Apparently so do Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ coaches: by releasing Watson in favor of LaCosse and Izzo, the team has shown considerable confidence in the two to build on what was a solid performance in Washington. Whether they will be able to do it or not remains to be seen, but New England’s offense would obviously benefit from having serviceable depth at the tight end position that can play a prominent role if called upon.