Earlier this morning I pondered the fantasy outlook of the Patriots offense in its new, highly mangled configuration. Please read that to justify my existence. Thanks.

Part of that mental meandering and fear for Tom Brady’s 2013 season related to Jake Ballard, and specifically whether or not he’d have a fully functioning knee. When Aaron Hernandez was officially cut after he did the sleeveless handcuffed dance earlier this week, the immediate assumption was that Jake Ballard would ascend the Patriots’ tight end depth chart. We all thought that would be especially true if Rob Gronkowski can’t recover from being generally broken before Week 1, forcing him to the PUP list.

There’s just a weee problem, though. Ballard isn’t healthy either, and his own climb to being at least a replacement level tight end has continued to be a slow one.

Of course, we’ve noted this in the past while discussing Ballard. But now through Evan Silva we’ve been alerted to a rather unpleasant word associated with Ballard’s health, and his recovery from microfracture surgery.

From the Boston Globe, that word is “rigid”:

Jake Ballard was very successful for the New York Giants in 2011 when they won the Super Bowl, catching 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He’s coming off an ACL tear and through OTAs and minicamp has appeared rigid. But you can expect him to loosen up as he fully recovers from his injury.

He probably will loosen up, and be at least serviceable. But thinking that the Patriots will primarily rely on Ballard when they desire to use a tight end either as a pass catcher or a blocker (especially the latter) seems foolish right now. Yet it’s that initial, reactionary thinking which has driven his fantasy value up quickly, meaning that in leagues drafting early there could be a whole lot of tears associated with Ballard’s name.

At minimum, expect a platoon, with Michael Hoomanawanui getting plenty of targets too along with Daniel Fells, and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld is a potential sleeper to watch closely throughout training camp. But start ridding yourself now of any thought that Ballard will be forced into a primary role.