New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez underwent shoulder surgery this offseason, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The procedure is expected to keep him from participating in the team's OTAs and minicamp.
The good news is that Rapoport doesn't anticipate Hernandez being in danger of missing training camp or the start of next season. At least not yet. Due to lingering issues with Rob Gronkowski's forearm, which ESPN Boston reported could put his availability in jeopardy for Week 1, the Patriots need a healthy Hernandez more than ever.
Tom Brady is already preparing to lead an offense without Wes Welker, his favorite target over the past six seasons. Now, both of his star tight ends are dealing with injuries that are going to cause some level of concern heading into next season.
Hernandez has caught 175 passes for just under 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Combined with Gronkowski, the team's two tight ends accounted for over 100 catches and 16 touchdowns last season.
Having them both on the field creates mismatches for the Patriots offense. Their ability to combine size with athleticism allows New England to control the middle of the field, and it makes Brady's job as easy as pitch and catch at times.
It will become a lot more difficult if one or both of them aren't ready to roll for training camp. As for now, it sounds like Hernandez should be ready by that point barring setbacks. Gronkowski's status remains more uncertain.
The Patriots will turn to Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells in the meantime. The situation should become more clear as the details surrounding Hernandez's surgery are filled in.
Until then, Brady and Co. must continue to prepare with the players who are healthy.