FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots tend to weather even the direst storms. But wading the waters of the 2019 season with their current crop of tight ends will be a significant challenge for Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense.
The Patriots were forced to acquire tight end Eric Saubert in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday. Saubert joins Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Lance Kendricks, Ben Watson and Stephen Anderson on the Patriots’ tight end depth chart. And Kendricks currently is donning a red non-contact jersey in practice, Watson is suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season, Anderson was limited in practice Monday and LaCosse wasn’t out there at all after suffering a leg injury in Thursday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions that didn’t look good.
So, how did New England get to this point where it’ll have to pick between LaCosse, Izzo, Kendricks, Anderson and Saubert, if any of them are still healthy, as they make roster cuts?
Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement in late March, which was a week or two too late to use his cap space on a viable replacement (like Jared Cook).
The Patriots released Dwayne Allen and traded Jacob Hollister.
They signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins but released him in the spring after the tight end went through some personal problem.
They attempted to trade for tight end Michael Roberts, but he failed his physical and reverted back to the Lions before being released.
So, now they have LaCosse, Saubert, Izzo, Kendricks, Anderson and (eventually) Watson. Don’t expect much production out of the tight end position this season. It currently might be the worst tight end depth chart in the NFL.
LaCosse began last season buried on the Denver Broncos’ depth chart but caught 24 passes for 250 yards with a touchdown after Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli and Jeff Heuerman all got injured.
Watson figures to start once he returns, but he only caught 35 passes for 400 yards with two touchdowns last season with the New Orleans Saints, and he’s another year older at 38.
Kendricks, 31, managed just 19 catches for 170 yards last season with the Green Bay Packers. He was out of football before signing with the Patriots in July.
Izzo didn’t play last season after being placed on injured reserve in the summer. Consider him Allen’s replacement as an in-line blocker and not much else if he makes the roster. He was targeted three times Thursday, caught one pass for 5 yards and dropped a would-be touchdown from quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Anderson is the opposite of Izzo. He can run and catch, but at 238 pounds, he shouldn’t be asked to move any defensive linemen in the run game.
Saubert has decent size and athleticism at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, but he’s caught just five passes in 30 career games and played more special teams than offense in his first two NFL seasons.
The Patriots don’t have many other options right now. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them swing a trade for another tight end at some point this summer or early in the season. They also could comb the waiver wire after roster cuts Aug. 31 to see if a better option hits the open market.
To further complicate matters, the Patriots aren’t exactly deep with proven commodities at wide receiver. Julian Edelman tops their depth chart, with Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis and Danny Elting behind him and Demaryius Thomas and Cameron Meredith on the physically unable to perform list. Meyers, Harry, Berrios, Patterson, Olszewski, Davis and Etling are rookies or first-year players. Harris, Inman, Thomas and Meredith have NFL experience, but there’s no guarantee how they’ll fit in the Patriots’ offense once the season starts.
The Patriots undoubtedly will rely heavily on running backs in the passing game this season, but Brady could have some tough sledding — at least early in the season — targeting tight ends and wide receivers.
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