Rob Gronkowski’s retirement left a big hole in the Patriots’ passing game. New England still has WR Julian Edelman, but the team needs to find a tight end to make up for Gronk’s lost production. Fortunately, the answer may already be on their roster in the form of a veteran in his first season with the team.
What New England has lost
Gronkowski ranks among the best tight ends in history, ranking behind the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. In his nine seasons, Gronk played in 115 games, recording 521 catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. This doesn’t even count the numbers from his 16 postseason games.
A particular threat in the red zone, Gronk’s biggest issue was durability. A rash of injuries caused him to play 16 games just twice in his career (in his first two NFL seasons). If he was able to take the field more, his stats would be more impressive.
Lance Kendricks as a replacement?
No matter who New England names as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart, he will have a tough time filling Gronk’s shoes. Lance Kendricks, who the Patriots signed on the first day of training camp, may be their best option.
New England is his third team since the 31-year-old entered the league in 2011. The former second-round pick played his first six seasons with the Rams before signing with the Packers as a free agent prior to the 2017 season.
Kendricks has caught 241 receptions in eight seasons, gaining 2,505 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t very impressive. However, he had to catch passes from quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Case Keenum — not a recipe a for success.
Why will things be different in New England?
Kendricks has a good chance to succeed with the Patriots due to the combo of QB Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick. Belichick is perhaps the best coach ever when it comes to creating a game plan that gets the best out of players.
If Kendricks can develop a good rapport, he will do all he can to help the team win. The tight end also has experience working with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who worked for the Rams during Kendricks’ rookie season.
The roster’s other tight-end options
Kendricks doesn’t have much competition for the starting job. The biggest obstacle may be veteran Ben Watson, who’s on the decline and facing a potential suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Other tight ends on the roster include Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.
Barring an injury, Kendricks should easily beat them in training camp. Even if he doesn’t rise above Watson at the start of the season, he could end 2019 with the best stats of any Patriots tight end.