The New England Patriots acted quickly after Aaron Hernandez's arrest on Wednesday, releasing the tight end who would have been a central aspect of their offense in 2013.
It was the move the Patriots felt they had to make, and given the seriousness of the charges against Hernandez, perhaps a decision that would have been taken out of their hands regardless.
Now the Patriots move forward. Hernandez is gone. Rob Gronkowski is in recovery from back surgery. Danny Amendola steps in for Wes Welker. Others will attempt to replace Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots led the NFL in points scored last year. It will be a considerable achievement if they manage it again.
"If Tom Brady can pull this off and come anywhere close to that level of productivity, they ought to at the end of the season just slam dunk him into the Hall of Fame," NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said Wednesday on "NFL Total Access." "Forget five years after he retires. Just do it at the end of the season."
Hyperbole aside, we get Billick's thinking. Brady won Super Bowls without a Pro Bowl cast of characters in the past, but this year is different. The Patriots must adjust on the fly and lean on players who don't have a pedigree of success.
"At the end of the day, this league has been, is now, and always will be about talent on the football field," Billick said. "And to remove the level of talent that we just talked about with Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez. And to take nothing away from Michael Jenkins, Jake Ballard and Danny Amendola, but these guys, to this point, have been somewhat pedestrian in this league."
The talent level is down significantly in New England, but don't count out the Patriots. This is the greatest challenge Bill Belichick and Tom Brady ever have faced together. It's not a duo to underestimate.