The amount of resources the New England Patriots pour into the tight end position this offseason will have a direct correlation with how they feel about 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.
And if the Patriots sign 10-year veteran Kyle Rudolph, who was released by the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday, it could be a good sign for the young tight ends.
Asiasi and Keene combined for just 55 of the 254 receiving yards gained by New England’s tight ends in 2020 with 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo accounting for the other 199. There’s reason to believe Asiasi and Keene could take major second-year leaps in the Patriots’ system since young tight ends typically take longer to blossom and because it was a challenging offseason for rookies with no in-person offseason workout program nor any preseason games.
But it would be pretty risky for the Patriots to simply bank on increased production out of Asiasi and Keene without adding more certainty at the position. Izzo will be back, and 2019 free-agent addition Matt LaCosse is set to return from his opt-out last season. LaCosse had just 13 catches for 131 yards with one touchdown in his first season with New England in 2019.
The Patriots need something more guaranteed at tight end if they hope their offense will be more high-powered in 2021 than it was in 2019 and 2020.
Enter Rudolph, 31. His best years might be behind him at this point, but tight ends typically stay useful well into their 30s. Rudolph caught 28 passes for 334 yards with a touchdown in 12 games last season, outpacing New England’s tight ends as a whole. He was coming off of a 16-game, 39-catch, 367-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2019. The best stretch of Rudolph’s career came between 2016 and 2018 when he averaged 68 catches for 669 yards with six touchdowns per season. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end also has been a solid in-line blocker throughout his NFL career.
The Patriots have shown strong interest in Rudolph in the past, per a source with knowledge of the situation. So, New England should be a suitor for Rudolph once again now that he’s available on the open market. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport said Tuesday that Rudolph could be signed quicky after being cut.
Rudolph is a good compromise if the Patriots still have faith in Asiasi and Keene to develop in the future. Otherwise, New England could spend bigger and commit to more years with younger free-agent tight ends like Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith or Gerald Everett. A move like that would likely mean the Patriots have less confidence that Asiasi or Keene could turn into true pass-catching threats at the position. Rudolph likely will come cheaper and presumably wouldn’t sign as long of a contract as those players.
The Patriots certainly have the money to add Rudolph. They’re entering the offseason with more than $60 million in cap space but also have needs at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker.
The Patriots are a bit picky at tight end. The fact that they liked Rudolph in the past means it’s likely they’ll give him another look this offseason. The question is whether he’s enough and will come at a big enough discount as the younger options.