The Patriots have gotten absolutely nothing from their tight ends this season. Obviously the difference in production between Rob Gronkowski and any other tight end was going to be quite substantial, but New England's tight ends have combined for seven catches in five games.
Everyone expected tight end to take a back seat in this year's offense, but not to this extent. Some of that can be chalked up to personnel; the Patriots coaxed Benjamin Watson out of retirement over the summer to help offset the loss of Gronkowski, but he was suspended for the first four games of the year after a PED violation. Those four weeks are now up, but the team didn't activate Watson for their most recent game against Washington. Now, the news has emerged that the Patriots will not activate Watson at all, making him a free agent.
This is quite shocking. They didn't pursue other options over the offseason, presumably because they wanted Watson. The news of his suspension wasn't really news to the team; as Watson explained, he had taken banned substances when he thought he was out of football, and told Bill Belichick and Co. about his incoming suspension as soon as he realized it was coming. Watson played in the preseason and suffered a concussion before his suspension kicked in. Now, it appears he won't play at all.
There could be some Patriots cap-wizadry going on here. Not activating Watson clears up just over $2 million in cap space, and they could be waiting to use that before bringing back Watson on another deal. This also could just be another one of the inexplicable machinations of the New England Patriots. To the rest of us, it remains a surprise and a mystery.