How Benjamin Watson's suspension could benefit the Patriots

Golic Jr.: Watson's character will help his case after failed test (1:31)

Mike Golic Jr. expects Ben Watson to get "the benefit of the doubt" after Watson revealed he is facing a four-game suspension for a failed drug test. (1:31)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Could Benjamin Watson's four-game suspension to open the 2019 NFL regular season turn out to be a positive for the New England Patriots?

Former New York Jets and Miami Dolphins front-office executive Mike Tannenbaum, who is now a football analyst for ESPN, could see that being the case.

"Obviously that was bad news with the four-game suspension, but what it does for New England is give them roster flexibility," Tannenbaum said on SportsCenter. "He won't be on the roster on opening day, and therefore as a veteran, his contract won't be guaranteed. They only gave him $600,000 in up-front money, so between now and the fifth game of the regular season, if another opportunity presents itself, they could simply move on from Watson and not reinstate him."

Or the Patriots could plan to make Watson a significant part of their offense -- a scenario with stronger odds -- and use the time he's away to develop a player they would have otherwise had to release.

That's also part of the roster flexibility to which Tannenbaum refers, as suspended players don't count against a team's initial 53-man roster. So the Patriots can now keep a player they otherwise wouldn't have been able to, similar to what they did in 2016 when quarterback Tom Brady served a four-game NFL suspension to open the season and when receiver Julian Edelman was suspended at the start of the 2018 season.

That is a silver lining to the situation of which the Patriots were aware when they signed Watson to a one-year, $3 million contract on May 9.

Consider that the Patriots had an NFL-high four players claimed on waivers following their 2017 roster cutdown to 53 players. In 2018, they had three players claimed, which once again reflected the quality of depth on the Patriots' 90-man roster.

So being able to keep an extra player could be significant, while also helping to sort out what remains personnel-wise at tight end without Rob Gronkowski, which comes with more questions than answers.

Will six-year veteran Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-foot-5, 262 pounds) become a reliable option? He has the most pass-catching production of those on the roster outside of Watson, with 116 career receptions.

Meanwhile, 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo (6-5, 255) will also vie for Dwayne Allen's old role as a No. 2 option. Izzo has the combination of power and technique to block effectively at the line of scrimmage, and reliable hands to be a factor in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

Free-agent signing Matt LaCosse (6-6, 255) projects to have a strong chance to stick in Jacob Hollister's old No. 3 role -- and perhaps more. LaCosse came on strong late last season in Denver, totaling 24 receptions when given extended playing time for the first time in his career.

Then there are longer shots Stephen Anderson and Andrew Beck, who each cannot be dismissed.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Anderson is a "move" tight end who is less likely to be a factor as an inline blocker. He spent last season on the Patriots' practice squad after totaling 36 receptions in 28 regular-season games with Houston from 2016-2017.

And the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Beck, of Texas, earned $115,000 guaranteed in the contract he signed after going undrafted, a team high among undrafted free agents.