Patriots Appear Content With What They Have at Tight End After Rob Gronkowski’s Season-Ending Injury (Mailbag)

Matthew MulliganFOXBORO, Mass. — With Rob Gronkowski lost for the season, the interest in free agent tight ends — both available now and at the end of the season — has perked up.

The Patriots appear content with what they have at the position for now, though. Matthew Mulligan, Michael Hoomanawanui, James Develin and D.J. Williams will shoulder the load in Gronkowski’s place. And unless Williams emerges as a pass-catching threat, the value at that position will be in run and pass blocking more than going out and catching four or five passes a game.

That means running backs and receivers will have to make up for the loss of Gronkowski just as much as the tight ends. In this week’s mailbag, we’ll look at some of those players who will be asked to fill in for Gronkowski and some of the players who will be free agents after the season.

With Gronk out, I have this (totally unfounded) hope that James Develin will play a much bigger role. How realistic is that?
–@highgatenate

Well, he’ll probably play more, both as a fullback and tight end, and he may get a few more touches here and there, as he has in recent weeks, but he won’t be filling Gronkowski’s shoes or anything. Develin is an interesting player because he’s probably still improving at his position, though.

It’s not talked about enough that Develin played defensive end at Brown, then transitioned to fullback after a stint in the UFL. He’s recently taken on more reps at tight end, so it’s only uphill from here for Develin at both positions.

With Gronk’s health issues looming, do you think the Patriots try to lure Tony Gonzalez for one last shot at a SB in 2014?
–@JamesDiMaio

I wouldn’t be completely shocked, but I also wouldn’t say it’s likely by any means. Gonzalez will be 38 next season. He’s had another productive season, but at a certain point, a player’s skill is going to drop off dramatically. To lure Gonzalez out of possible retirement, a team will have to pay the man and he may not be worth that risk.

Why don’t the Pats go after Tony Scheffler, Todd Heap, David Thomas, etc.?
–@theREALjrabb

Because the team must like what they see more in Williams.

Also, Heap is 33 years old, Scheffler has had concussion problems and Thomas wasn’t good enough to stick around in his first stint with New England.

Pats need to stay man coverage right? They look lost in zone.
–@OFox0220

I think there are pros and cons to both coverages. Man leaves the team more susceptible to get beat deep, while the zone is leaving holes in the middle of the field for tight ends, running backs and receivers on crossing routes. A team can pile up yardage against New England’s zone, but there’s a certain “bend but don’t break” element to it.

I think once everyone is fully healthy in the secondary, they go back to man. Aqib Talib is the biggest part of that equation. Talib is obviously still a little bothered by his hip. If he’s able to get right by the end of the season, he’ll be better at changing direction and he’ll be able to stay with shiftier receivers over the middle of the field.

I understand it’s frustrating to see wide open tight ends in the middle of the field, but it’s better to get beat for 10 yards than 25 or 50. Of course, New England did give up an 80-yarder to Josh Gordon this weekend. But that had as much to do with Talib’s injury and the safeties playing shallow than anything else.

So, Jimmy Graham is coming up on FA. Think any chance Pats would make a go and shell out that contract?
–@Cardkillah

As appealing as this sounds, I don’t think they’ll have a chance. If it came to Graham seeing the open market, the Saints would likely slap the franchise tag on the tight end then work from there. NFL teams don’t leave talented players like Graham open to sign with other teams.

@DougKyedNESN how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
–@MikeGiardi

A woodchuck could chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood. Duh.

Also, I miss this commercial:

I like that the Youtube video is called “Geico Woodchuck Commercial – Really Funny Wood Chucks Chucking Wood.”

Do the Pats seem content with the defensive line as it is now or is there another move out there?
–@donnieharpell

You never know, there could be a minor move out there, but they seem pretty content with the current group they have. The biggest surprise is the lack of snaps Isaac Sopoaga has received in recent weeks.

The big nose tackle isn’t listed on the injury report, but he played just two snaps against the Browns. Since coming to the Patriots, Sopoaga has played 27 snaps against Pittsburgh, 41 in Carolina, 14 against Denver, 21 in Houston and two against Cleveland. Sealver Siliga did outplay him against the Browns, though. So that could explain the downtick.

Who’s gone and who stays in the running back group this offseason?
–@YoIo

LeGarrette Blount is the only free agent this offseason. It seems the Patriots like him, though. So if he can be brought back cheap enough, I think he could stick around.

I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Brandon Bolden or Stevan Ridley are not back next year. Though, unless there’s a much better player out there available, both players are certainly talented enough to stick around. Shane Vereen will definitely be back.

This is a very good, deep group of running backs. I don’t think there are any real complaints to be made about them. But obviously the Patriots are always looking to upgrade. And if Belichick thinks Ridley’s fumbling issues are chronic, he could be a trade chip.

As silly as it sounds, the Pats are destined for the Super Bowl this year. I’ve seen too many comebacks. It’s happening!
–@BrentSchwartzz

You guys heard it here first.

Best Home Alone?
–@cpriceNFL

AMC has been running basically nothing but Home Alone films lately at night. And if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I can’t stay away from viewing. In watching these movies over and over, I feel I can properly answer this query from my good friend Chris.

The first Home Alone is definitely the best. I know some would argue Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is better because it’s more plausible or more violent (both partially true), but the original can’t really be topped.

In watching HA2 (I’ll just shorten it from now on), I can’t help but notice how much of a retread it really is. I think John Hughes and Christopher Columbus knew and accepted that this was happening as they made the film, but it does take away from the enjoyment.

Kevin McCallister befriending the local man, who shovels snow and salts sidewalks in his spare time, at a church while the bearded man is watching his granddaughter sing? Fine. Kevin McCallister befriending a homeless woman who feeds pigeons in Central Park? A dangerous lesson for children that it’s OK to hang out with the homeless when lost in a big city.

Kevin was also at least defending his own property in the first film. Harry and Marv wanted to take his family’s stuff, so obviously he had to defend his house. In the second installment, Kevin is far too proactive. He learns of Harry and Marv’s plan to rob Duncan’s Toy Chest, then lures them into his aunt and uncle’s abandoned house to electrocute and torture them. That’s borderline sociopathic.

No matter where you stand on HA vs. HA2, we can all agree that Home Alones 3, 4 and 5 do not exist. They’re unwatchable and should be stricken from existence. Sorry Alex D. Linz, you’re no Macauley Culkin.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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