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The Quest For The Next Gronk

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 29: Darren Waller #83 of the Oakland Raiders warms-up before the start of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

The offense saw a significant decline in production, going from one of the top offenses in the league to only an average offense. This could potentially be due to the significant loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, one of the greatest of all time at his position. So as the Patriots look to fix their offense the tight end position is near the top of their list. Luckily, they have a lot of options at their disposal.

Free Agency

The lowest risk way of acquiring a star tight end is through free agency, and there are some young, talented options available. Out of the handful of decent option’s the Patriots could choose from, two stand out from the rest.

Hunter Henry

Yes, Henry is very injury-prone so far in his career. But he at the very least can simulate what Gronk was on the Patriots. Last year, despite missing four games and dealing with a relatively weak offense, Henry had over 650 yards and five touchdowns. His output is VERY similar to Gronk in his final year of play.

The Patriots present one of the best destinations for Henry, who could immerse himself with amazing coaching, a winning culture, and an improved team. A Henry signing may warrant a slight overpayment, but he has been on the verge of breaking out his entire career. If he doesn’t receive a major injury, we could see someone who puts up similar Gronk-like numbers on a rejuvenated Patriots offense.

Austin Hooper

Hooper is an even better option than Henry. He has also yet to find his ceiling, after putting up career highs last year in yards (787), touchdowns (six), yards-per-game (60.5), and receptions (75). And this was with missing three games. The 25-year-old Hooper also boasts fewer injuries than Henry, meaning he is a longer-term investment despite their similar age.

Hooper is also looking to get away from Atlanta, after once again failing to contend. The two-time Pro Bowler can find a near-certain playoff berth in New England, even if Brady is not the QB. If the Patriots don’t wish to give something up via trade, are looking to win now, and are willing to spend big money Hooper is the smartest option.

Trade Options

The Patriots have never really been shy in the trade market, especially when bringing in receiving options. Lucky for the Patriots, there are two good tight ends on bad teams that could possibly be available.

Evan Engram

Despite being another injury-prone option, this could work in the Patriot’s favor when discussing a trade. The Giants, who are among one of the worst teams in the league, would obviously want some picks to speed up the rebuild. So the Patriots could offer a pair of early-to-mid draft picks for the tight end. It would be hard for the Giants to say no, considering their timeline doesn’t exactly match up with Engram’s, and he could very well leave for nothing in a couple of years.

Evan had the worst stats in his career last year, this was due to being out half the year. When he did play, he looked better than he ever has in the NFL. If I had to place his skill-level, it would be in between Hooper and Henry, which makes his value come into question when considering all the recent injuries. But if the Patriots strike out in free agency and other trades fall through, Engram is definitely not a bad option to consider.

Darren Waller

Waller broke out last year with the Raiders, going from a career-high of 85 yards to 1,145. He is the oldest player on this list, but also possibly the greatest option. Waller played all 16 games last year, which is more than anyone else can say, and put up the greatest total and per game stats. But with many key players and staffs future up in the air, along with quarterback Derek Carr, the already dysfunction Raiders could stray even farther from contention

So a trade is not just possible, but likely for the breakout tight end. The Patriots can offer the picks or maybe even a decent role player, and bring in a very talented option to carry the load of a contending team with Edelman. And the contract situation is very good too, with Waller being under contract till 2024 earning roughly $6 Million per year. So if the Raiders do typical Raiders things, we could wind up with Waller as a Patriot next year.

The Draft

Even if the Patriots sign or trade for a great tight end they will most likely still draft one as well. Especially due to just how deep the tight end class is this year, with more than a handful of players containing star potential. With potentially five picks in the first four rounds of the draft they have plenty of options for who they choose.

The odds of the Patriots drafting a tight end in the first round is very unlikely, especially with the highest-rated tight end projected to be taken in the middle of the second round. So it would be no surprise if the Patriots traded up to select one in the second round. The likes of Cole Kmet from Notre Dame, Brycen Hopkins from Purdue, or Jared Pinkney from Vanderbilt are all options in the second round. They would most likely go with Hopkins, but that’s if they even take a tight end in the second.

The most likely scenario has the Patriots simply waiting for the third round. There they have their own pick, and potentially two other compensatory third-rounders from last year’s free agency. Hunter Bryant, Harrison Bryant, and my personal favorite Adam Trautman will most likely be available in the third.

Trautman had over 900 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 11 games. Even if he literally plays half as good in the NFL, he would still have over 650 yards and 10 touchdowns in 16 games. It isn’t a question on if a good tight end is available, it all simply depends on which good option could potentially turn into a great option.

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