Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reloading the Musket: Part 2 - Slim pickins' in free agency may steer Pats toward the draft for a Tight End

Following the disappointment of the loss to the Baltimore Ravens in last season's AFC Championship game and leading into the unmitigated lunacy of the free agency period and the draft, we identified four particular needs that the Patriots absolutely had to address if they were to make if past the damnable conference title game and win another big shiny trophy for the ominous and humbling trophy room at the Hall...

...little did we know that our words would be so prophetic - so much so that the situation is now far more grave than

"From these experiences, we can reasonably assume that Belichick's targets should be, in no particular order, a speedy wide receiver to stretch the field, a three down linebacker with coverage skill, a press corner to develop under Aqib Talib and an athletic hybrid tight end that is capable of backing up both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with little drop off in production.

The Patriots have none of these things."
Foxborough Free Press, April 26th. 2013

That's right, written in the wee hours of the morning, after the first round of the draft had been completed and New England had become best buddies with the Minnesota Vikings, who came a courtin' Belichick by dangling a fist full of second day draft picks in front of Bill Belichick's eyes, seeking the Patriots' first round pick.
Texas Tech's Amaro could be a target for the Pats in the draft.

Belichick didn't care why they wanted the pick, just that he had multiplied his chances at hitting on a few draft choices - and he did to a certain extent, drafting wide receiver Aaron Dobson, linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Logan Ryan, but not the athletic tight end.

Now, there is no way that Belichick could even consider that Aaron Hernandez would blow his plans for the juggernaut, tight end-centric power passing attack to smithereens by turning into an alleged street thug with a gun fetish - though he had to of known of Rob Gronkowski's back issues that needed to be addressed, and that any delays in his rehab from surgery on his broken forearm could land him on the PUP list - or worse.

So there was really no sense of urgency to spend a draft pick on the likes of Travis Kelse or Jordan Reed to back up their expensive bookends - but there was indeed a very real urgency, and with Hernandez in jail and Gronkowski the villian in many-a-sportswriter's weekly tale of the tape until he returned close to mid-season, only to be cut down by a rouge Cleveland safety named T. J. Ward...

...and with Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan being the only other options, the lack of play-making depth at the tight end position absolutely murdered this offense.

When Gronkowski played, the Patriots look like a dominant force to be reckoned with, even with all of the new faces in the receiving corps, but when he went down the aerial attack went down with him - with their rookies hurt and free agent Danny Amendola working without a functioning adductor muscle, Julien Edelman was the passing game.

The hard running of LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley was able to mask that for a couple of games, but the entire offense exploded in Belichick's face in losing his second straight AFC Championship Game.

So New England enters the 2014 Free Agency and Draft evaluation period with an offense in a state of flux - only one of their tight ends was coming back, but only after rehabbing his right knee for the next six to nine months - and with the tight end being such an integral part of what the Patriots do on offense, it is creucial that they do not miss on this position in the offseason.

But what does free agency really have to offer?

Jimmy Graham?  Like New Orleans is going to let him get away.  Dennis Pitta?  Naw, he's going to get the tag - plus he's Joe Flacco's best bud.  Jermichael Finley is damaged goods after having his spine fused together and Lions' Brandon Pettigrew is a drop machine that runs in quicksand.

Those are your top four free agents that are going to be looking to get paid, and it's gets ugly after them.  It is important to remember that one of the ramifications of the timing of the Hernandez issue is that the team is handcuffed with his cap number counting against the books, so signing as close to an impact player as possible is prudent.

Names like Scott Chandler from Buffalo, the Packers' Andrew Quarless, the Jets' Jeff Cumberland, and Clay Harbor of Jacksonville are second-tier talents that could be had on a team-friendly deal - with the 29 year old Chandler the only one with a protracted history of success.

And ir's not beyond the spectrum of possibility that Chandler ends up in Foxborough as Belichick has seen him burn his pass coverage enough times to know what he would bring to the team - barring a move to bring in the 6' 7" condor, there's also the draft that features athletic and versatile tight ends, much the same as last season's draft class.

North Carolina's Eric Ebron likely wont make it out of the top 20, but is a big, fast and strong seam burner that would make an immediate impact should New England somehow get themselves postured to get him...

Texas Tech's Jace Amaro is even bigger and stronger than Ebron, just as fast, too...maturity questions have some scout leery but he is every bit an impact talent.

If the Patriots are content looking in the later rounds, Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen could be a 4th round gem as a move tight end...

On the surface and not knowing exactly what is going to happen with Gronkowski's rehab, the team could do a lot worse than sign Chandler and pick up one of these monsters in the draft, with Amaro being the choice if the Patriots decide that the position is worth their 1st round draft pick in May...

...and it should be.

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