On the surface, losing Benjamin Watson for the first four games due to a failed drug test isn't the best deal for the Patriots given he's one of the few in the tight end group who actually has a relationship with Tom Brady and knows the offense.
With Rob Gronkowski retired, and a new cast assembled in the tight end room, the veteran presence of Watson provides some stability and insurance, which would have helped in the early going.
But let's face it. This team is always evolving, and it seems to be evolving beyond being an offense that revolves around the tight end position.
Without a player as dominant as Gronk to lead, it's hard to lead with that group. Last season, they moved toward their strengths, which was the running back group and the run game behind a terrific offensive line, along with the usual short passing game featuring the backs and Julian Edelman. They became more of a grinding offense.
And this season, Ivan Fears' running back room has only gotten stronger. As long as the primary tight ends can block those first four games, which is the expected length of Watson's suspension, they'll be fine.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who should make the team as one of the tight ends, can catch and block. Matt LaCosse, another likely to make the 53-man roster, is a two-way tight end as well.
But let's examine this even deeper. Quite a few of the wide receivers either drafted or brought in (Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman) are mammoth, or tight-end like in size. Also, Arizona State first-round pick N'Keal Harry, at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, lined up in many of the places Gronkowski lined up, whether outside or inside. He ran similar routes.
Judging by the new cast assembled, it seems like they might ground and pound you, then beat you up with their physicality at receiver, along with the toughness of Edelman.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said during a recent media session he wasn't ready to marry his offense to any one style at this stage. He wants put the personnel on the field during the camps, and see how it looks and shakes out.
Based on Watson's information, the team knew the suspension was coming prior to signing him. So it didn't make much difference to them. But again, with the group that's in Foxborough for the defending Super Bowl champs, given where the strengths now lie, it really shouldn't make a great deal of difference given where the offense appears headed.
"I think you have to look at who you have, and what they do well, and you have to look at who are we playing, what are the best advantages we can gain this week," McDaniels said during a recent media availability. "You try as many times as you can in a game, to gain an advantage. Sometimes that's with skill, sometimes that's with size, sometimes that's with tempo, sometimes that's with play-style or personnel groupings.
"But you just take as many good football players as you can, put them in a room, and coach them as best as we can," he went on. "Right now, we're not making any of those determinations. Today and the next so many months are about foundation, evaluation, let 'em rep, see what happens, is it good enough, is it not, do we need to change something, do we keep doing it? I don't think we really know the answers about what we're going to look like in September and October yet. That's for another day down the road. That's why this part of the year is fun."
They might not have all the answers just yet, but on paper, it sure seems pretty obvious. They'll be fine without Watson. The lack of depth at left tackle is a greater worry.