Playing tight end for the New England Patriots brings along a laundry list of responsibilities. And that, at least in part, can help explain why Bill Belichick has rostered a laundry list of them since the 2016 league year opened.
Some have been cut from the traditional inline cloth. Some been more suited for offline duties. Others have been mostly blocking specialists, serving as extension of the offensive line without needing to report as eligible receivers.
It is as multiple a position as there is in Foxborough. It is also one that Bill Belichick, who won’t soon forget the practice battles between Mark Bavaro and Lawrence Taylor, has continued to hold high regard some three decades removed from his New York Giants days.
“Probably other than the quarterback, the tight end position in our offense is the hardest to play,” Belichick said during a September 2015 press conference, “because you have all the protections, you have all the running game and you have routes from the sideline to the middle of the field to occasionally even in the backfield. So, there are really no plays off mentally for that position.”
Through the first eight games of the 2016 regular season, four tight ends have combined to play 765 snaps on offense and 110 snaps on special teams for New England.
Only two of whom have caught a pass for the club, however, and the other two are no longer on the roster.
That is par for the course. Never have the transactions been static. Never will they be. And this past week – which saw one tight end traded away, another signed to the practice squad and another signed to the 53-man roster off another team’s practice squad – served as the latest reminder.
Since 4 p.m. ET on March 9, the Patriots have cycled through 11 players at the position.
Here’s a look back through that ever-evolving depth chart.
Rob Gronkowski – The former second-rounder out of Arizona is in the midst of his seventh year with the Patriots. And while he caught only one pass for 11 yards through the first month of the regular season as he worked back from a hamstring injury, Gronkowski has since reeled in 21 passes for 473 yards and three touchdowns over the Patriots’ last four contests. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder became the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns last Sunday.
Martellus Bennett – The Chicago Bears shipped Bennett, along with a 2016 sixth-round draft choice, to the Patriots in return for a fourth-round pick on March 16. Since then, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound target has registered 31 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns over eight games and seven starts. Bennett and Gronkowski were the lone tight ends on the roster for Week 8.
Matt Lengel – Lengel, who spent the past two seasons on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad, was added to New England’s active roster on Nov. 2. The 6-foot-7, 266-pounder arrived in the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015 after spending his college years between Northeastern and Eastern Kentucky.
Austin Traylor – An 6-foot-3, 255-pound undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin, Traylor made stops with the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers before signing to the Patriots’ practice squad on Nov. 1.
Greg Scruggs – The Patriots signed Scruggs, a former defensive lineman, to the active roster on Oct. 1. But after two weeks among the team’s inactives, the 2012 Seattle Seahawks seventh-rounder was sent to injured reserve with a knee injury on Oct. 15.
Michael Williams – The Detroit Lions sent Williams to the Patriots in exchange for a future seventh-round draft choice on Aug. 25, 2015. And from there, a 6-foot-6, then-300-pound blocker moved from offensive tackle back to the position he played collegiately at Alabama. The results saw Williams catch three passes for 26 yards over 15 games, nine starts, and 447 snaps. But Williams suffered a torn ACL during Patriots minicamp this spring and reverted to injured reserve after clearing waivers on June 13.
AJ Derby – The 2015 sixth-round pick, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was traded to the Denver Broncos for a 2017 fifth-round pick on Oct. 25. Derby, a 6-foot-5, 255-pounder, played 35 offensive snaps and 32 special-teams snaps in four games for the Patriots this campaign.
Clay Harbor – New England signed Harbor on March 30, though after three games, 25 offensive snaps and 39 special-teams snaps, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound veteran was released on Oct. 3. Harbor signed with the Lions the following day.
Steven Scheu – Scheu signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt on May 6. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Commodores product caught two passes for 24 yards during the preseason, yet was waived on Aug. 30. The Denver Broncos signed Scheu to the practice squad on Oct. 18.
Bryce Williams – Williams also signed with New England as an undrafted free agent on May 6. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound East Carolina grad by way of Marshall caught one pass for zero yards during the preseason, before being waived on Sept. 3. He signed to the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad one day later.
Bear Pascoe – After stops with five teams since entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2009, Pascoe signed on with his sixth on July 27. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound veteran went on to appear in two preseason games for New England was released on Aug. 22.