There is no genuinely replacing Gronkowski, both from an on-field productive perspective and the enthusiasm that he brings to an organization. Nonetheless, Belichick and the Patriots still have a giant, Gronkowski-sized void in their offense.
If New England intends to address that hole in the coming weeks, they need to strongly pursue Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry if he hits the open market.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have missed Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski’s departure from the Patriots went much differently. Gronkowski retired after Super Bowl 53 and a legendary career with the Patriots.
Months after Gronkowski appeared at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., to be recognized with the rest of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, the iconic tight end wanted back in. New England, still holding Gronkowski’s rights, traded him and a seventh-round pick to the Buccaneers. for a fourth-round selection in April 2020.
The trade reunited Gronkowski with Brady, who signed with Tampa in March. Gronkowski hauled in 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games, the first time since 2011 that he played a full season.
Gronkowski totaled eight catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. Most of that damage — six catches, 67 yards, and two touchdowns — came in the Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
Chargers star Hunter Henry is a free agent this offseason
Everything that the New England Patriots have missed in Rob Gronkowski is what the Los Angeles Chargers enjoyed with Hunter Henry.
A former second-round pick, Henry has been extremely productive of late. In 26 games across the last two years, Henry hauled in 115 catches for 1,265 yards and nine touchdowns.
Henry’s 60 catches this past season set a career-high, and he came within 40 yards of breaking his personal receiving yards record. For comparison, Ryan Izzo led all Patriots tight ends with 13 catches and 199 yards in 2020.
Bill Belichick is familiar with facing Henry, who has three catches for 16 yards in two career regular-season games against the Patriots. New England held Henry without a reception on his lone target during the AFC divisional round in January 2019, a game the Patriots won, 41-28, at home.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots need to sign Hunter Henry
Understandably, the Chargers might want to keep Henry around, especially after young quarterback Justin Herbert‘s stellar rookie season. But if Herbert hits the open market, Belichick needs to make a play and finally spend big on a free agent.
Whoever plays quarterback for the Patriots next year, whether it is Jacoby Brissett or BYU’s Zach Wilson, needs weapons. Veteran wideout Julian Edelman could be a cap casualty after an injury-plagued 2020 season.
Although he has his own injury history, including a torn ACL, Henry would bring experience and star potential to a Patriots team in serious pursuit of such players.
Time is running out for Belichick and the Patriots to win a final championship together. Adding Henry into the mix, along with a capable quarterback, would certainly help the Patriots’ chances of contending next year.