The retirement of Rob Gronkowski this past offseason was disappointing but not surprising to most Patriots fans. Gronk was beloved throughout the states of New England, but it was clear as day that it was his last year as he hobbled through catch after catch, week after week for an entire season.
If it was obvious to the fans, surely it was obvious to the coaching staff. That’s why most figured the new generation of Patriots at tight end would come sooner than later. Last year’s draft passed, and the Pats drafted… no tight ends. OK, that’s fine, Gronk was still around for another year. He then retired after this year’s initial free agent signing period, and the team missed out on potential signees like Jared Cook, even if they didn’t show much interest. No problem, this year’s draft was stocked with tight ends.
The draft came and went, and the Patriots still didn’t take one. They weren’t expecting to be able to land T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, but just about everyone figured they’d take someone like Irv Smith Jr. or Jace Sternberger. They did not.
On Monday, they decided that defying expectations wasn’t enough, and threw them out the window completely by trading Jacob Hollister. Hollister was a practice squad/bench project who has been quietly coming along, but they shipped him to the Seahawks for a seventh-round pick. Which begs the question: who on Earth is going to play tight end for the New England Patriots in 2019?
They signed Austin Sefarian-Jenkins just before the draft, and the 2014 second-round pick has been underwhelming so far in his career. Otherwise, the team’s depth chart at the position now consists of Matt LaCrosse, Ryan Izzo, and Stephen Anderson. If those names don’t strike fear into your heart, I’m not sure what will.
The Patriots are always good for an unpredictable move or two before the season starts and rumors have been flying about Kyle Rudolph, in particular. But if they don’t land Rudolph, are these guys seriously going to play more than half the team’s offensive snaps? Sefarian-Jenkins has size and speed, but there’s no reason to think he’s just going to meet his potential after years of falling short.
We may be on the eve of another dramatic offensive transformation from Bill Belichick and the Pats, eight years after they took Gronkowski and started a tight end revolution. Then again, it’s just as likely Belichick is preparing to send out this crew of generic football players and they’ll all suddenly become great.
Belichick eats our doubts for breakfast, but if he traded what appeared to be the only mildly threatening tight end on the roster for a seventh-round pick, we have to ask: what does Belichick know this time that the rest of us don’t? The answer will likely frighten us.