Happy Valentine’s Day, all!
You know it, I know it, there was no way I could let Valentine’s Day pass by without some love for all that is New England Patriots ‘tight endage.’
The tight end position is in great controversy recently in New England. But let’s be honest, the unrest began before the commencement of the 2019 season.
The news that Rob Gronkowski was retiring was not fully unexpected. Gronkowski had sacrificed his whole body for the sport we all love and the guy was broken, hearts shattered all around, Gronk was epic and the absence of that big body left a crater of a hole in the team and the fans.
More of a minor issue was that his announcement came after free agency. Now, one would argue that there’s no way Coach didn’t know it was going to happen but either way no big star veteran free agent got picked-up to help fill the role.
Possibly more puzzling to fans was the lack of tight end drafting. The Patriots did not take a single tight end in the 2019 draft, when it was easily arguable that tight end had become a great position of need for the pending season.
Ryan Izzo was a rookie drafted in 2018 who hadn’t played a game, Matt LaCosse was the one signing in free agency to the position on a two year deal after playing for the Broncos and Benjamin Watson put off retirement. No offence to any of these guys but that’s kinda slim pickings.
Unfortunately, 2019 proved sparse for Ryan Izzo as he suffered with injury and only played 6 games and although he scored his first NFL touchdown, the full report on this guy was not in. Matt LaCosse had to step up and fill the unfillable tight end shoes but he too had injury to contend with and scored his one and only New England touchdown. Ben Watson was in a back and forth with the Patriots in the off season, they wanted him, then they didn’t, then they did and to give Benjamin his dues he took it all and went out and played for the team that genuinely needed tight endage. His 2019 stats were rather low and he did not have another touchdown to add to his career.
Okay so let’s hop skip and jump ahead into 2020. Still with the gaping wound where Gronkowski used to fill, Benjamin Watson retired and Matt LaCosse opted out.
(Not so) Lil’ Ryan Izzo was the only rostered tight end. Fortunately the draft proved lucrative and two tight ends were drafted… two! (Swoon!) Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. AND the Patriots scooped up undrafted Boston College’s Jake Burt! Rashod Berry was another undrafted free agent signed but assigned number 43 and rostered more often as a defensive end than a tight end.
Preseason saw an influx of bodies at the tight end position. Paul Quessenberry yoyo’ed in a Patriots uniform. Previously of the Oakland Raiders, Paul Butler attended a few practices as well as former San Diego State David Wells and ex-LA Charger Dylan Cantrell who is currently with the Washington Football Team. At one point there were seven tight ends signed to the New England Patriots.
(Yes, yes I was excited, but we must move on….)
And so, into the 2020 season the Patriots marched forward with a previously rostered player and two nice new fresh bodies.
Alas…. t’was not meant to be.
To the puzzlement of most Patriots fans, the two drafted tight ends Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi were not played, let alone utilized very much at all and whilst Ryan Izzo played 12 games before suffering with an injury reserve making hamstring injury, he was targeted only a handful of times.
So what was the deal? Whilst nowhere near Gronkowski’s level we had a decent youngster in his second year who was blocking like a trooper and two spring chicks who were just not being utilized. Mid-season, they took on big bodied Jordan Thomas who played six games with one reception for three yards but he was released before the end of the season.
The only real explanation we got was that the tight end position is one of the most difficult to develop and whilst we know this is true it didn’t help us tight end enthusiasts.
So now we creep forward to the 2021 season. With so much uncertainty in the Patriot camp I’m pretty sure we are all hoping for some feast at the tight end position after two years of almost famine.
Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi being rookies only drafted a year ago are probably not on the chopping block, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse are both still under contract but neither are definite to return. From a completely personal opinion based on nothing but his statistics and my perspective, Ryan Izzo is the better and cheaper option to obtain some stability at the position especially having the majority of last season in the team.
Now to the exciting stuff! Free agency or draft?
Do the Patriots drop a chunk of salary cap into the lap of a tight end superstar? I think pretty much every Patriots fan has seen THAT photo of Coach Bill and Hunter Henry, but he isn’t the only big numbers tight end who could be floating around.
There are a few names this year emerging as great tight ends of the future that at pick 15 the Patriots are in a possibly prime position to be able to take. Florida’s Kyle Pitts has been reported as a phenomenal player who is foregoing his senior season to be entered into the 2021 draft whilst Massachusetts very own Pat Freiermuth who plays at number 87 for Penn State has been confirmed as a complete tight end. Size and physicality, versatile and a great blocker.
(Yes I am trying really hard not to get too excited by this guy and I know, it’s not really working… please bear with me).
So there you have it folks, possibility over possibility over possibility. I’m guessing that like many fans, I am simply hoping that the Patriots return to being strong at the tight end position and once again play two tight ends.
Let’s feel the love folks!
-Clare L. Cooper is a Special Contributor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. Her New England Patriots insight can be found @FPC_Patriots