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Ask PFW: Lots of TE talk and more!

Posted Jun 25, 2013

For a variety of different reasons the tight end position is at the center of many questions that fill out this week’s edition of Ask PFW.

Hi again. Thank you for having read my question and answered me, because here it's hard to get information and opinions, just with you guys. Now, knowing the possibility of Hernandez being suspended or arrested and Gronkowski on the PUP list: 1) How do you see the passing game with tight end? 2) Who do you think will be the starter? 3) Do you imagine the Patriots getting someone by a trade or the free agency?
Gustavo Ferreira

With the problems at TE, who do you think is in line to start if top 2 are out at beginning of season?
Ray Perrotta

There is no question that the Patriots tight end depth chart is a major uncertainty at this point, including arguably the two most important figures to the overall passing – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. While the season is a long way off both guys are question marks to open the year, and with Hernandez the cloudy future could go well beyond that. But there are some lesser options on the depth chart. I would put Daniel Fells atop that list. The veteran is a decent receiver with the ability to block. He battled an injury to start his New England career last summer, but is a well-rounded option who people seem to have forgotten about. Jake Ballard is in the mix as he returns from ACL surgery, but I haven’t loved what I’ve seen from him this spring. He’s still seemingly limping and has not caught the ball well. He is more of a blocker than a receiver, but he needs to prove himself healthy. Michael Hoomanawanui showed the ability to chip in last year as both a blocker and a pass option. Finally, undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld has shown fluid athleticism and soft hands in spring action in shorts. He has a long injury history that made him basically a one-year producer in college. His skills are intriguing as a potential pass catcher, but he’s quite a projection at this point. I also wouldn’t rule out the team adding a veteran in the process. Though he’s far from his former Pro Bowl self, Dallas Clark might be an option in the Hernandez mold as a slot receiver, and New England showed interest in his services in the past. But clearly what should have been the strength of the offense – especially since the Patriots inked their dynamic duo to nearly $100 million in extension last summer – isn’t going to be that any time soon. If I had to pick the top two at the tight position right now I’d go with Fells and Ballard to start the year, with the hope that Gronkowski would join the mix relatively early on in the season.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! With the homicide investigation involving Hernandez still going on is it possible the Patriots can trade Hernandez? As much I like Hernandez, I rather see the Pats trade him for a first- and second-round picks. He's a proven player and in the NFL rookies are question marks. Having this in mind are there possible takers for Hernandez? Please respond.
Miguel Pizano, California

Zach Sudfeld seems to have stood out at OTA's and mini-camp. If he continues to develop as a legitimate option through training camp and the season, do you think it's possible that we could see Aaron Hernandez on the trade block come the trade deadline/end of the season?
Alex Smith

Technically Hernandez could be traded at any time between now and the deadline during the regular season. But realistically no team is going to deal for a guy who’s at the center of such a serious legal investigation. The Patriots will likely have to see how things play out on a legal front before the next step comes in terms of his career. But there is certainly no way in heck that any departure from New England is going to result in the team getting a first-round pick for the oft-injured and now troubled tight end. That’s just wishful thinking.
Andy Hart

With the legal uncertainty surrounding Hernandez, Gronk’s recent injury issues and Jake Ballard returning from a serious injury, what is the likelihood that the Patriots are looking to add a veteran TE? Are there any veteran TE's that are free agents or veterans that might be available via trade?
Zach Strong

There are still some interesting names out there, mostly free agents. As I said above, Dallas Clark is a name that would seem to make sense. Visanthe Shiancoe, who the Patriots liked enough last year to put on IR with a designation for return, is also available. Old friend and former draft pick David Thomas, most recently of the Saints, is also a free agent. All three could make sense on some level. I don’t see a lot of great options via trade, but we know that Belichick is always capable of finding someone in the bushes. None, though, will be anywhere near a replication of either Gronkowski or Hernandez.
Andy Hart

I was reading an article on the Bleacher Report about the Tom Brady replacement plan. And they were talking about if Brady’s replacement is already on the roster or if they would draft someone over the next couple years to set behind Brady and learn until he retires. And I was thinking the team should draft Johnny Football [Manziel] whenever he decides to go into the draft and give him time to learn behind Brady for a couple years. What do you think?
Zack Ross

I don’t like the idea. I have serious doubts about Manziel at the next level. He’s undersized (6-0) and is more of a creator as a quarterback, almost a sandlot type football player. I’m not sure he’s going to be a great or even good NFL quarterback within the confines of an NFL system. I could be wrong, but he doesn’t seem like the type of quarterback that Belichick would be looking for to replace Brady. It would be two very different styles and skills of quarterbacks. Also, Manziel doesn’t have the best track record off the field, so that would be a consideration for a team looking to make him a franchise quarterback. He could be the next in a long line of Heisman quarterbacks who struggle to find success in the NFL.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, love your article. Keep up the great work. In regard to Aaron Hernandez, is it possible for the Pats to revisit the recent contract in regard to guaranteed monies in lieu of recent allegations. I mean possible destruction of evidence of this nature is serious business. I feel they should cut bait, so to speak.
James Hachey

As I said earlier, once the legal process begins to shake itself out I’m sure the Patriots will look into all avenues in regards to Hernandez’ future with the team. That could very well include the Patriots revisiting that contract and potentially getting a return of bonus monies and cap space moving forward. But that is a long way down the line and one of the least of the issues that needs to be worked out in the future.
Andy Hart

Last time I questioned it was Rob Gronkowski, this week it's Aaron Hernandez, so once again I'll "spice" it up again, but this time with a dash of, well, dash. So I believe the running game WILL BE VERY IMPORTANT this year. It seems like the offense position (besides quarterback) we haven't lost is running back and that my "friend" is why we could heavily rely on it. I think we could possibly see Ridley and Vereen with 1k yards and Bolden adding a good 500. This would certainly extend Brady's arm life and could be a bit of a challenge to stop in opposing defenses?
Kyle Rodgers

I tend to agree that the running game and the running back position could be very much key to the offense this fall, especially early in the year. One aspect you left out of the discussion is that the Patriots return the entirety of the offensive line from a year ago. That could also benefit the ground game. With all the uncertainty at tight end and receiver, Brady’s most reliable option could very well be handing off to Stevan Ridley or some quick throws to Shane Vereen. It seems strange to think of in light of the way the New England team has been built in recent memory, but the backfield could be at the heart of the offensive attack.
Andy Hart

I hate all the attention around Tim Tebow but now I find myself wondering: should Hernandez and Gronkowski be unavailable for whatever reason, could Tebow be seen as a viable option behind Sudfeld and Ballard to play tight end, or would a free agent acquisition be a better idea? Tight end is even more important this season with no track record from wide receivers
Alex Marr

As I said earlier, it seems everyone has forgotten Fells. He has to be very much considered in the mix in the absence of Hernandez and/or Gronkowski. Tebow might be an option down the road as a jack-of-all-trades or emergency guy, but I don’t see him cracking the rotation among the top two or three tight ends, almost regardless of what else happens at the position. Yes, the issue at tight end is very much magnified due to a lack of proven, reliable talent at wide receiver. It’s why the Patriots passing game is as big a question mark as it’s almost ever been in New England during the Belichick era.
Andy Hart

Much has been made about us adding Dobson and Boyce to the team. What are the scouting reports on our other additions Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones?
Erik L.

Jenkins is a veteran talent who’s been a consistent complementary option in his career. He’s by no means a speed demon, but brings a professionalism to his route running. He has good size and should have decent hands, although he struggled to catch the ball in spring practice. Jones is more of a versatile athlete who can do a lot of things, but hasn’t had a ton of production in his career. He’s much younger and has far more speed. I’ll be honest I didn’t think he did much to stand out in spring practice (with guys not wearing jersey numbers) and will be interesting to see what he brings to the position battle in training camp.
Andy Hart

Since the Patriots signed rookie free agent QB Brian Hoyer in 2009, the Patriots have only carried 2 QB's on the roster (excluding Julian Edelman who played QB for Kent State). Does this mean whoever loses the backup QB competition between Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow will get cut and not make the 53 men roster?
Mackenzie Kirkey

I don’t think we can really make any roster projects this early in the process. So much could happen between now and September. Tebow’s overall unknown role is also a major consideration. There is always the chance that he presents value at another position or as a jack-of-all-trades contributor. So he could be a third QB with roles at other positions. If Mallett on the other hand is not the backup, then I don’t think he would have a role with the team. But that seems unlikely to me at this point given Tebow’s late arrival and continued struggles to prove himself as an NFL passer.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, Love your articles. I read them all the time. Just wondering how is our new receiver group looking? It is as BB said a total "redo" and it will be a long season if TB doesn't have any one to throw too. Don't get me wrong I like the move and I think it actually was necessary. I guess I'm just a bit worried that's all.
Todd Patton

The spring work among the receivers and the overall passing attack very much looked like a work in progress. There were a lot of dropped passes and incompletions on the practice fields when the media was able to watch OTA and mini-camp action. That said, Danny Amendola looked very good as he works to build a relationship with Brady. Beyond that, the rest of the mix of pass catchers is very much up in the air. Gronkowski, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson are dealing with injuries. All could have roles with the offense. Other newcomers are still working into the system. Whether a total re-do at receiver was necessary or not, it is what it is at this point. And like you, I have my doubts as to how effective the Brady-led passing offense is going to be early in the season. What is usually a given as the heart of the best offense in football is a major unknown right now. Stay tuned.
Andy Hart

What do you expect from Stevan Ridley in regards to his role on the team and how any touches he will get?
Hisham Saklou

I fully expect Ridley to remain the lead running back coming off his 1,200-yard sophomore season. He had 290 carries last season and given the uncertainty of the passing game it’s not unrealistic to think he’ll have a similar number or even more carries this fall if he can stay healthy. If the ground game is going to compensate for any potential drop off in passing production, Ridley is going to be a part of that.
Andy Hart

I have seen the improvement of the Pats defensive units but still have big question mark on the Pats new wide receivers. Is there any chance that the Pats get Jabar Gaffney or Randy Moss on a one-year deal for insurance while Dobson and Boyce are in development mode? Thanks
Peter Pham

While I still have my doubts about how the defense is going to be constituted in New England this fall, I will stick to the latter part of this question. I don’t think there is much of a chance that either Gaffney or Moss would be brought back. In my opinion both guys are pretty much at the end of the line and wouldn’t offer much. The Patriots would be much better off giving the young guys they have a chance at extra reps to develop. Desperation induces strange decisions at times, but the Patriots aren’t anywhere near that point yet in my opinion.
Andy Hart

My question is about Tim Tebow. If none of the other positions that people think he will be (running back, tight end, receiver or quarterback) work for him could he become the starting fullback?
Noah Fishel

Anything could happen. And Tebow certainly has the size to be a fullback. But he’s never really shown the ability to be a lead blocker or to catch the football out of the backfield. So that would quite obviously be a problem. He also seems to still be intent on being a quarterback. There also really is no such thing as a starting fullback with the Patriots these days. That hasn’t been a role since Heath Evans departed. Josh McDaniels seemed to try to alter that last year by bringing in fullbacks, but it never really came to fruition. I find it hard to believe that Tebow would be the guy to change that. Could he be a jack-of-all-trades type? Maybe. I still have doubts.
Andy Hart

Do you think coach will acquire another cover corner like Aqib Talib? I'm thinking it would be wise to have someone that can fill Talib's role in the event of injury we saw what happened after he left the game. Also what are the chances of a late signing of another wide receiver?
Roy Perrone

Every team is always trying to acquire as many cover corners as possible. But they are a rare beast in this world. I don’t see the Patriots aggressively going after a specific cover corner at this point. There is some pretty good competition among young corners on the roster with Ras-I Dowling, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan to go along with the more veteran and versatile players. If a decent corner – of any skill set – were to come available, I’m sure the Patriots like all teams would consider the move. But it doesn’t seem likely at this point.
Andy Hart

I heard that Adrian Wilson was fighting Kyle Arrington for #24 , so who gets # 24?
Mendy Cohen

There was no fight, but Wilson will be wearing No. 24 in his first season in New England while Arrington has switched to No. 25. They worked out an arrangement that included, according to Arrington, Wilson sending him some Pampers diapers for his new baby as well as some babysitting services. Seems like it was a very civil deal.
Andy Hart

I love reading your opinions, especially during the offseason when information is hard to come by. I am most curious about Michael Jenkins; most writers seem to think he will make the roster, but I never heard enough good talk about him from OTAs and mini-camp to think that he is a better option than any other guys, even the rookies. Why is Jenkins considered a shoe-in while younger, more reliable pass catchers are not being given any cred? And speaking of which, what is the status of Mark Harrison? He sounded like a very good prospect at the outset.
Doug Tozier

Jenkins got a lot of reps working with Brady and Amendola during the spring, so I think the assumption is that he’s higher up on the depth chart. He’s also a proven veteran commodity. That said, I didn’t think he caught the ball very well in OTA and mini-camp action and do not believe he’s a lock for the roster at this point. Part of the problem is that many of the younger receivers have either been out of action or limited, including Harrison. He signed with the team with an existing foot injury and did not practice in mini-camp. Boyce has also yet to step on the practice field, and while Dobson was out there initially this spring he also got injured. As always health will play a big issue in guys making the team, but it’s even more important for the rookies to get on the field as soon as possible if they are going to have a chance to contribute in their first season.
Andy Hart

I'm thinking that the possibilities of Zach Sudfeld making the final cut are without a doubt in his favor, but do you think that he can solidify the third TE spot? His height is great, especially for jump balls and his hands are stick-em mitts! Do you feel he has the route running skills and athleticism needed to be, "that" guy?
Donald Blakeborough

I think you are putting the cart well before the horse for a guy who had one productive college season in six years. Sudfeld needs to prove he can stay healthy, first and foremost. Then he needs to prove he can continue to impress in full-contact action in pads this summer. That’s a lot we still have to see from an undrafted guy. I like what I’ve seen from Sudfeld so far and was singing his praises from the first day of OTAs, but let’s keep the expectations reasonable at this point and let the process play out. He’s off to a good start but has a long way to go.
Andy Hart

I hope I ask this 3-part question the right way. Do undrafted, rookies and other "camp bodies" get paid even if they don't make the final roster? How is it a player is under contract, yet they still can get released? Finally, are there any players that compete for a roster spot that aren't under contract at all?
Jake Roberts

All players are paid when they practice or take part in offseason camps and workouts. Players are paid $175 a day for OTA spring workouts. During mini-camps players are paid for travel expenses as well as a weekly rate of $1,700 for veterans (first-year players get $925) that continues through training camp. NFL contracts are not guaranteed, so the players can be cut at any time. It’s just the way the business works, and is different from most other sports. Yes, teams occasionally bring players in for tryouts during rookie or veteran mini-camps. Most of them will not be signed, but occasionally a player does enough in that environment to earn a contract.
Andy Hart

Hi, Big Patriots fan from Miami here . Do you think the Patriots will run a 43 instead of a 34 this season, due to all the LBs they drafted? And do you think that our defense can content with the other top defenses this year?
Jose Vasquez

The Patriots have run primarily a 4-3 defense for each of the last two seasons, transitioning from the 3-4 that had been Belichick’s calling card for the bulk of his coaching career. I do think the New England personnel is now entrenched to be a primarily 4-3 team moving forward. As for the talent of that defense, I think there is a lot of optimism thanks to the young players on the roster. That said, those players must improve. I’ve been saying all offseason that I think the defense’s success in 2013 in many ways will rely on how much improvement Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower show in their second seasons. If they make big jumps as reliable playmakers, then I think it could make a lot of other good things happen for the unit as a whole. That said, I am skeptical of the group becoming one of the best in the NFL so quickly after what has been a big struggle the last few seasons.
Andy Hart

Can we please reduce the #of Tebow questions?
Steven Copeland

Does this one count?
Andy Hart

I hear a lot about "where are they going to use Tebow" One thing I have not heard, which I thought would be a no brainer is holding for field goal attempts. Isn't this the job of many back-up QBs? Having a potentially starting caliber QB hold for FGs just gives us that extra dimension. I would assume some more fake attempts will be built into the playbook this season.
Marc Roy

While the holder job used to fall to the backup quarterbacks, more often these days it goes to the punter. That’s certainly the case in New England where Belichick likes the fact that the kicker, punter and long snapper can work together more often to build a cohesive bond without the other responsibilities that would be true of a backup quarterback in the position of holder. There are also more injury concerns and changes to think of if a quarterback is in that job. So I think Belichick will likely stick with his pure special teams trio for the field goals and extra points.
Andy Hart

Based on the back surgery Gronkowski is having done and the expected timetable of rehab it'll take for him to get back on the field, do you foresee the scenario where Gronk starts the year on the PUP and being eased back onto the field by week 6-8 (uncertain of the allowed week to activate off the PUP)? Also, depending on the production during the camp and preseason does Sudfeld find himself a roster spot on the 53-man roster and possibly the game day roster?
Brandon Andrews

The reported recovery timetable for Gronkowski is 12 weeks and would put him right about at the start of the season. That doesn’t necessarily take into account that he’s also recovering from multiple forearm surgeries. We all assumed that Gronkowski will open training camp on PUP merely six weeks or so after surgery, which is a technicality that must be in place if he is to have PUP as an option to open the season. NFL Network confirmed this likelihood with a report from a source last week (maybe that source was Captain Obvious?). My gut tells me that there is a very good chance that Gronkowski could open the season on PUP, but that would mean he’d miss the first six weeks. If there is a chance that he could be ready before then he’s certainly a valuable enough player to keep on the roster and have as a game day inactive for a couple weeks to get him ready in the first month or so. Obviously the process of rehab and recovery will decide when Gronkowski is ready, but I’m preparing myself for that to be sometime in October at this point. Of course I’m a cynic by nature. As for Sudfeld, I’ve already written a lot about how much I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him as well as how much more he has to prove before he’s considered a regular season option at tight end.
Andy Hart

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