Apparently Bill Belichick has a serious case of the TEs. True world domination just won’t be complete until the Patriots have evaluated or signed every tight end in the NFL.
The man is obsessed with the position. Has been ever since he finangled the rest of the NFL out of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 draft. While the other 31 teams were busy trying to sign franchise quarterbacks and shut down corners, Belichick spent a 2nd and 4th round pick respectively on his team’s dynamic duo.
Prior to their arrival in New England, the tight end position was widely ignored. Benjamin Watson, the Pats’ first round draft choice back in 2004, did his best to make a niche in the offense, and Chris Baker was a serviceable blocker during his tenure. But neither came close to the prowess of Gronk and Hernando. Belichick loves them. The media can’t stop writing about them. They have re-shaped the Patriots offense in every conceivable way.
So far, it’s been a very positive relationship between players and scheme. But here lies the problem: when you rely too much on one personnel group, you actually end up limiting your offense instead of expanding it. That’s what’s happening right now in New England. After Hernandez suffered a low-ankle sprain early in Sunday’s game, the offense completely sputtered without him and essentially lost the team the game. Why? Because they need him, just like they need Gronkowski. There is some truth to the belief that the Pats would have beaten the New York Giants in February’s Super Bowl if Gronk hadn’t been hampered by a broken ankle. Without his big-body presence and his confidence in going up for a jump ball, Tom Brady was without his most dangerous weapon and the Giants eeked out a three-point victory.
With Hernandez out of the line-up for at least six weeks, Belichick went ahead and signed another tight end (pending a physical). Kellen Winslow, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, could be sporting the Flying Elvis in an attempt to fill Hernando’s (very large) shoes for the next month or two. But the Pats already have a guy on the roster who could do that; Daniel Fells was an off-season pick up for the team and by all accounts would fit in well with what they’re doing offensively. While he has been nursing a shin injury, it doesn’t appear to be something that will keep him out long-term, or prevent him from playing in a pinch, so why sign Winslow? Especially when Winslow has a history of serious injuries?
It’s all about obsession. Obsession with what the tight end position opens up for this team on offense. Obsession with plays designed specifically for big guys to run over light-weight cornerbacks. The Patriots have designed their offense around an entirely different position than most teams. Doubt it? Take a look at Wes Welker’s playing time. They’re giving him nothing at all, talking about how he doesn’t fit in their “personnel groups.” This man has had multiple 100-catch seasons and they’re keeping him on the bench. Welker is all about finesse; the Patriots are becoming more and more about smash mouth-style ball. Hit them hard and long, without as much bobbing and weaving. Or they’re trying to do this at least, since Brady still can’t hit Brandon Lloyd on a deep route to save his life.
But that’s not the point. The point is, without two tight-end sets, and two tight ends who can expertly execute the plays, this offense will go nowhere this season. They spent all spring and summer designing game plans that, without Hernandez, just may not fly. If the next six weeks this offense looks anything like it did Sunday, Hernandez may as well not even bother returning. Because the Pats won’t be going anywhere worth going.
Also, keep in mind the Pats have Visanthe Schiancoe and Jake Ballard under contract as well. Every team needs at least six tight ends, right?