With tight end Aaron Hernandez expected to miss four to six weeks, the New England Patriots have called in the reinforcements and have looked to a soldier in doing so. The Patriots have agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr.
ESPN AFC East reporter James Walker was the first to break the news:
Filed to ESPN: #Patriots agree to one-year contract with TE Kellen Winslow Jr. to fill in for the injured Aaron Hernandez (ankle).— James Walker (@JamesWalkerESPN) September 18, 2012
Hernandez figured to be a huge part of the Patriots offense this year, with his numbers increasing across the board from 2010 to 2011, but his loss means the Patriots will have to find a replacement for that production, and for Hernandez's role in the offense.
With Welker's reduced role in the offense, those numbers figure to increase once again. Now, the Patriots will have to find a way to replace his production.
That being said, don't expect Winslow to roll into New England and immediately make the same impact. He has a short time to get familiar with the offense and with quarterback Tom Brady. It should also be noted that the Patriots passed on signing him once before, and there were reports that he failed his physical.
The Patriots are willing to try anything to make sure the two-tight end set remains the basis of their offense. ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss explains:
The Patriots are committed to having their offense run through the tight end position, as they ran every snap in the season-opener at Tennessee with two or more tight ends on the field. They became just the second team since 2008 to run every play of a game with two or more tight ends.
Yet when Hernandez went out on Sunday, the Patriots shifted to more of a three-receiver attack, running only 19 of their final 79 snaps with two or more tight ends on the field.
They would probably like to get back to running the two-tight end set if possible, so going after a receiving tight end to fill the void left by Hernandez was a no-brainer.
The Patriots designated tight end Visanthe Shiancoe with the new injured reserve tag, which allows the team to bring him back after Week 6, but if they're to be without Hernandez for four to six weeks, they are going to need a replacement sooner than that.
While NFL Network's Michael Lombardi reports that Winslow's knee problem is the reason he remains unsigned, Danny O'Neill of The Seattle Times reported that his cut from the Seahawks came as "an out-of-the-blue shock" to those who watched practice. O'Neill added that Winslow was "the receiving specialist in Seattle's two tight end sets" and "is big enough to give defensive backs problems in coverage, and too precise a receiver to be covered by a linebacker."
That sounds eerily similar to what Hernandez brings to the table.
Statistically, Winslow has been a solid receiving tight end, and he has done it with less favorable quarterbacking than he'll get in New England.
Now, though, it's all about whether he can get up to speed quickly enough to make his presence felt in Hernandez's downtime.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.