The reported one-year deal is hardly a move of necessity. With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez already in the mix, you could essentially toss in any old body and you'd still be left with the best tight end unit in football. Shiancoe, while not exactly a spring chicken at 32, isn't just "any old body," though, and he could actually contribute in a number of ways.
Shiancoe will likely compete with Daniel Fells for the team's No. 3 tight end spot this season, but Fells enters training camp on the PUP list. Another option, Jake Ballard, joins Fells on that list, and he'll likely stay there a while after tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl as a member of the Giants. At some point, the Pats may have to decide between Shiancoe and Fells, but going with four tight ends wouldn't be the worst idea Bill Belichick has ever had.
All indications are that Gronkowski's ankle is perfectly fine, but a player like Shiancoe is a serviceable guy to have around in a backup role should anything go awry. Fells is a nice complimentary piece as well, but Shiancoe gives the Pats more of a pass-catching threat, particularly in the red zone, and that is something that would be needed should anything happen to Gronkowski or Hernandez at any point this season.
We saw what Shiancoe is capable of as a red-zone target in Minnesota, when Brett Favre frequently targeted him close to the goal line. Shiancoe caught 11 touchdowns for the Vikings in 2009, making a name for himself on the fantasy football landscape.
Fantasy nerdness aside, Shiancoe also fits in the sense that he'll probably see plenty of reps in camp, assuming Belichick takes a more cautious approach with his two-headed tight end monster leading up to the regular season. Those reps aren't necessarily going to show up on any stat sheet, but Shiancoe should help alleviate any extra preseason strain on Gronkowski and Hernandez by taking away from their required workload.
At the end of the day, Fells might actually be the better option as the team's No. 3 tight end because of his blocking prowess. He's more of an Alge Crumpler type — you don't hear that every day — and would really help out the running game.
But at short money, bringing in Shiancoe doesn't require any risk. It only makes the Patriots that much deeper.