As the Patriots’ summer vacation rolls on and training camp approaches, one unprecedented question looms over all of New England. How will the reigning champions replace the greatest tight end of all time?
The answer? They won’t. Because it’s impossible.
What the Patriots will do, however, is adapt to the retirement of Gronkowski (for now). On paper, Bill Belichick and company do not seem all that concerned about the void left by Number 87. Let’s look at the timeline:
February 3, 2019: Patriots defeat Rams in Super Bowl LIII, Rob Gronkowski’s last game.
March 2: Patriots release TE Dwayne Allen.
March 24: Rob Gronkowski announces his retirement from football.
April 25-27: Patriots do not draft a tight end in the 2019 NFL draft.
April 29: Patriots trade TE Jacob Hollister to the Seattle Seahawks.
The tight end depth chart will look drastically different this season, and here are the guys competing for a spot.
Watson will make his return to New England as a very familiar face. He went 32ndoverall in the 2004 draft and spent his first six years with the Patriots before embarking on somewhat of a journeyman’s path throughout the NFL. His best year came in 2015 with the Saints, when he totaled 825 receiving yards on 74 receptions, and six touchdowns. Entering his 15thseason, the 38-year-old hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency during his career. However, his rapport with the Patriots, and with Bill Belichick, makes him a near lock to make the final roster.
It should be noted that Watson faces a possible suspension to begin the season, but that has never been a major factor in roster cuts under Belichick’s tenure.
Depsite entering the league in 2015, LaCosse didn’t register a full season until last year with the Denver Broncos. The 26-year-old Illinois product racked up 250 yards and one touchdown on 24 receptions before hitting the free agent market. His first few professional seasons have been tumultuous to say the least; he’s appeared in just 27 games in four years. However, the unsaturated tight end depth chart bodes well for LaCosse’s chances to not only make the roster, but garner some playing time.
The only surviving tight end from the 2018 season, Izzo actually spent his entire rookie season on the Injured Reserve. The Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Florida State, where he caught 20 balls for 317 yards and three touchdowns in his senior season. He excels as a blocker, and with Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski no longer in the picture, his blocking abilities make him a great candidate to survive roster cuts.
While Belichick did not draft a tight end in this year’s draft, Beck joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Texas. And Beck wasn’t just any undrafted free agent, he was actually the highest paid undrafted free agent in the entire rookie class. The 23-year-old signed a three year, $1.7 million dollar contract on May 2nd, including $100k in guarantees. Similar to Izzo, he gained notoriety as a blocking specialist. The lofty U.D.F.A. contract certainly helps his odds to make the roster, but there can only be so many tight ends on the field at a time.
All signs point to the Patriots embracing a more run-heavy scheme this year, which implies the potential increase in two tight-end sets. Beck’s prototype is similar to several of New England’s other tight ends, so he will have to shine in training camp to land on the final roster.
Anderson will enter training camp on the outside looking in. At 26, he is one of the older tight ends competing for a spot, and spent the majority of 2018 on the Patriots’ practice squad. He spent his first two years with the Houston Texans, appearing in 28 games and accruing nearly 500 receiving yards. Anderson has managed to stay healthy so far, which bodes well for the former undrafted free agent out of California. However, he landed with the Patriots after the Texans cut him, which tells me that Belichick is taking a flier on him as a low-risk competitor in training camp.
–Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media, and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @_ethanroy