But after failing to stock the tight end room with starting-caliber players for two years, Belichick now has a chance to officially check a huge box off his offseason to-do list.
After all, the LA Chargers just opened the door for Robert Kraft’s franchise to finally land a replacement for perhaps the greatest tight end of all time.
The Patriots continue to have major issues at the tight end position
Although Rob Gronkowski took a back seat in the passing game in his final season with the Patriots, he still made a major impact on the field. His 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame came in handy in the running game. And thanks to Gronkowski’s physicality as a blocker, New England ran the ball at will during its most recent Super Bowl run.
However, the five-time Pro Bowler retired shortly after winning his final ring as a member of the Patriots. And to this point, Bill Belichick has failed to restock the tight end position.
In 2019, he relied on a combination of 39-year-old Ben Watson, former undrafted free agent Matt LaCosse, and 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo. That trio combined to catch 36 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns.
Seeking some fresh blood in the meeting room, Belichick traded up twice to select tight ends in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. However, both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene failed to earn significant playing time as rookies.
Izzo caught just 13 passes for 199 yards.
Given the importance of the tight end position in Josh McDaniels’ offense, it remains a top priority for Belichick to find some answers in the ensuing months.
The Chargers just opened the door for Bill Belichick to finally replace Rob Gronkowski
By largely sitting out of free agency last year, the Patriots carried over $23 million in additional salary-cap space for the 2021 season. And with a long list of needs, Bill Belichick needs to spend some money to fill some critical roster holes.
And thanks to the Chargers, he may soon cross a coveted item off his wish list.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported via Twitter that LA informed Hunter Henry that he will not get tagged. Rather than using the franchise tag to retain his services for one more year, the Chargers will let the talented tight end hit the open market.
For the Patriots, this represents a massive win. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound former second-round pick has long been considered a logical free-agent fit. A rock-solid receiver who can also contribute as a blocker, Henry has racked up 196 catches for 2,322 yards and 21 touchdowns in 55 career games.
Of course, like Rob Gronkowski, the big-bodied tight end has missed ample time due to injuries. In fact, the 26-year-old has never played 16 games in a season. But after catching a career-high 60 passes in 2020, Henry should have no trouble finding a new NFL home.
And now that the Chargers have opened the door, it’s time for Belichick to walk in and have a conversation with a player who would instantly make New England’s anemic offense significantly better.
Can New England convince Hunter Henry to move across the country?
Even on his best day, Hunter Henry still falls at least a notch or two below the prime version of Rob Gronkowski. But based on the state of the position, the Patriots absolutely need to convince the longtime Chargers tight end to leave behind the warm weather of LA for the cold winters of New England.
And if Bill Belichick manages to get Henry on the phone, you can bet he will make a strong sales pitch to the talented tight end.
A move to New England would give the former Arkansas star an opportunity to catch a ton of passes. Instead of serving as a secondary option behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Henry could serve a Gronkowski-like role as the No. 1 option on most passing plays.
Plus, the Patriots have the financial flexibility to meet what should be a high asking price. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Belichick will change his ways when it comes to handing out significant guaranteed money in free agency.
But with millions to spend and critical holes to fill, Belichick can’t afford to go cheap anymore. Let’s see if the architect of the most successful dynasty in NFL history can convince a talented pass-catcher to join a team that currently has no answer at the quarterback position.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.