Time to put your GM caps on for a little bit of discussion.
The Patriots are at an interesting crossroad on offense where they have the opportunity to go in many different directions, with a solid base of talent wherever they choose to go. You are now Bill Belichick, without the dulcet croon of his voice, and you know that Tom Brady has only a couple seasons left. How do you approach this off-season?
1) Load up at Wide Receiver. You believe that the tight end position is going to be greatly overvalued and that top tier wide receivers are getting brushed by the wayside. The Patriots currently have Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson as reliable starters, both with a full season under their belt. Add in 2nd year Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce and there's no way these receivers aren't better than last year. The only hinge is on Julian Edelman's future. So your choice is clear:
Bring back Julian Edelman and attack the other wide receivers on the market, while the other teams scramble for the tight ends in the draft.
Let's be serious, Thompkins disappeared and Boyce was underwhelming. Factor in their low cost (ie: low/non draft picks) and no one would blink if they were cut. Remember the last time you were concerned about the Patriots cutting a fourth rounder after one season? Me either.
Jeremy Maclin could add the vertical component to the offense that Josh Boyce was expected to provide, and Maclin could be signed for a cheap one-year "prove it" deal as he recovers from an injury. Hakeem Nicks, Danario Alexander, and Kenny Britt are all X receivers that could not just push Dobson, but possibly supplant him in the depth chart. Add in Emmanuel Sanders while we're shopping.
Bring them into the fold. Let them fight for a spot. If they don't make it, no harm. If they do, then Brady's suddenly surrounded by elite talent at receiver and he can let it fly. There's also the chance that the Patriots use a later rounder on an insurance tight end in case Rob Gronkowski gets hurt again.
2. Grab a Move Tight End. It's a role that's needed. Some guy with shimmy, shake, who can create mismatches against linebackers and cornerbacks, and who play fullback and be the chess piece the offense loves to have. These types of players are the desire of every team- so the Patriots need to go and get what's theirs.
Maybe you think Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley deserve some test drives after season-ending surgeries. Like Maclin in the first scenario, these guys can be had for cheap with fantastic upside.
Or head to the draft. Pay up for Eric Ebron. Or take a late round flier on Richard Rodgers, Jacob Pedersen, or A.C. Leonard. Hell, take two at the end of the draft and make the best one win their roster spot.
This joker of a player can transform the offense. It allows the current players to develop. It adds an element that the Patriots were clearly missing this past season. And best of all, it comes at a relatively low price, which allows the Patriots to focus their resources to alternative needs.
3. Beef up and grab an Inline Tight End. This is the year for it, right? The Patriots saw how hopeless their offense was with Gronk on the sideline. Now they have a chance to not just grab a back-up for him, but a player who can step on the field and tilt it.
Maybe the Patriots make a stab at Brandon Pettigrew. Or Scott Chandler. And bring back Michael Hoomanawanui. And that's just the first step.
We laughed at the embarrassment of riches the Patriots had at the position during the off-season, only to see it wilt away into nothingness. That can't happen again and it's time to double down in the youth movement.
Jace Amaro. Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Troy Niklas. C.J. Fiedorowicz. Heck, Eric Ebron. Next tier Arthur Lynch. Marcel Jensen. Rob Blanchflower. Ted Bolser.
This is the draft to do it. The first tier are all TE1s. The second tier are perfect TE2s.
The big tight ends allow the Patriots to vary their looks and enforce their running game, while providing insurance in case there's a need for a seam stretcher. They might be slightly more expensive, but we've seen how a weak position can cripple the offense.
So GM Belichick. What do you do? Do you enhance your offense with cheap wide receiver alternatives in order to give Brady viable options outside the middle of the field? Or do you add a new element with a move tight end to give Josh McDaniels a chess piece that he thought he would have in 2013. Or do you instead double down at tight end with one of the elite prospects in a high cost, but obviously high reward move?