The Patriots officially parted ways with tight end Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday, just hours before it was announced he would be charged with murder (plus five gun-related charges) in relation to the homicide of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.
With Hernandez no longer in the mix, the Patriots are without a player who has been a virtual starter since he was drafted in 2010 and an integral offensive piece during his three seasons.
As it relates to the tight end position specifically, the Patriots still have six players on their active roster.
Below is a snapshot depth chart of the leftover players at the position, with some relevant information on each player.
* Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski is on the mend following both back and forearm surgeries this offseason, with an expected recovery time of 12 weeks following his back procedure earlier this month. While it is unlikely that he'll be available to start training camp, his status for the regular-season opener is unknown. When healthy, Gronkowski has been the best tight end in the NFL, but a string of surgeries on his forearm and the back procedure have slowed him this offseason. The Patriots are hopeful he can return to his full form.
* Michael Hoomanawanui: Hoomanawanui is similar to Hernandez in that he can be used in the "F" or move tight end position. He was often aligned out of the backfield last season, and he could be in line for a bigger role in Hernandez's absence. He was acquired at the start of last season and filled in sufficiently in spot duty.
* Jake Ballard: An intriguing player, Ballard started Super Bowl XLVI for the Giants, but a knee injury has kept him off the field since that time. At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, he's built like Gronkowski, though he's not the same athlete. He appears to be close to his old self after extensive rehab, and if Gronkowski is not ready at the start of the season, Ballard is a candidate to step up.
* Daniel Fells: Signed to a three-year contract last offseason, Fells had a quiet year in 2012. Nonetheless, he has good knowledge of the system, can play both tight end spots (Y and F) and has a soft pair of hands.
* Zach Sudfeld: Sudfeld was solid in offseason workouts, showing off impressive pass-catching skills and dependable hands. The 24-year-old was undrafted out of Nevada, and while it's too soon to make a hard-line statement on his outlook, he appears to be ready to compete for a spot on the roster.
* Brandon Ford: Another undrafted free agent this April, Ford was limited in offseason work due to an undisclosed injury. We'll learn much more about him in training camp.
It always remains possible that the Patriots could explore the free-agent market for tight ends (or also pursue a trade), but for now, the team has options on the roster if it decides to stand pat. Hernandez's skills are undeniable, making replacing him a challenge.