The New England Patriots have acquired TE Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts in what could be considered a win/win deal for both sides. The Patriots clearly needed an affordable option at tight end after TE Martellus Bennett started to look for Rob Gronkowski-level money. The Colts developed TE Jack Doyle and gave him a big money extension because he outplayed Allen in 2016, one year after giving Allen a big extension.
So the Colts get to free up some cap space because they had a better player waiting in the wings, and the Patriots get an affordable and oft-injured tight end with a high ceiling.
Bernd has explained what the Patriots acquisition of Allen means for the team. Let’s examine the player himself to see why Belichick would want to acquire Allen for the offense.
Allen is a relatively cheap player on a multi-year deal
Allen just turned 27 years old in February and has three years remaining on his contract. The Colts signed Allen to a 4-year, $29.4 million deal, or an average of $7.35 million per year, which currently ranks as the 10th highest tight end average in the league.
Well, the Colts already paid $11.5 million of that contract, which means that Allen is on a 3-year, $17.4 million contract, or $5.8 million per season. That is the 16th highest tight end average in the league, behind Doyle and ahead of the ageless Antonio Gates, and aligns well with Allen’s actual contributions on the field.
Allen will be in a Patriots uniform for the entirety of his prime. If he can find his former level of play, he will be one of the biggest bargains in the league. There are valid concerns about Allen’s upside because...
Allen is often injured and that affects his contributions
After playing all 16 games in 2012 as a rookie and projecting to be a star in the NFL, Allen was attacked by the injury bug. He played just 1 game in 2013 before suffering a season-ending hip injury, and he’s missed 8 games over the past three seasons due to various ankle, calf, and knee injuries.
Of course part of the issue could have been the Colts franchise itself. No team suffered more injuries between 2011-15 than the Colts (the Patriots ranked 3rd worst over that time frame), so perhaps a change in scenery and training could keep Allen on the field.
The Patriots switched up their training staff before the 2016 season and had one of their healthiest seasons under head coach Bill Belichick. If the health trend can rub off on Allen...
Allen is a a fringe top 10 tight end when healthy
Allen is not in the Gronkowski tier of tight ends, but he can definitely fit into the Kyle Rudolph tier when he’s healthy. Allen played just 1 game in 2013 and the entire Colts team disintegrated when Andrew Luck was injured in 2015; he was actually effectively an extra offensive lineman in 2015 due to all the injuries.
But in 2012, 2014, and 2016, when Allen was relatively healthy and had a viable quarterback, he recorded 109 receptions for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns over 43 games. Not world beater production by any means, but numbers that compare well with the Rudolph, Gary Barnidge, and Charles Clay group of players.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted Allen does “a good job of creating separation, making plays in the red area.” Allen has collected 71.9% of his red zone targets since entering the league, the best rate for all tight ends (min. 20 targets). That ranks 3rd for all wide receivers and tight ends, trailing Wes Welker (74.1%) and Brandin Cooks (72.0%), and edging out Danny Amendola (71.7%).
Add in Allen’s value as a blocker and you have a player hovering just outside the top 10 tight ends in the league.
Allen is a great blocker in the eyes of Bill Belichick
Back in 2014, Belichick said “I’ve been really impressed with Allen’s blocking. I think he’s one of the best blocking tight ends that we’ll see.” This is a key reason for the Patriots acquisition of Allen, because Bennett was a willing, but inconsistent blocker in 2016.
Matt Patricia noted that “Allen does a great job blocking. He really gets in there and gets his hands inside. He keeps his feet driving and really does a great job either on the edge or when they move him back into the backfield and allow him to come downhill inside.”
Allen struggled as a blocker in 2015 as many Colts writers noted that he was being utilized as a 6th offensive lineman and taken off the field on passing downs, but he’s at his best when his versatility is able to create mismatches.
“I’m very proud of my blocking ability and love the opportunity to go out there and help the team in that role, but whenever my skill set is boxed in to just that, that’s what frustrates me the most,” Allen said after the 2015 season. “It was a long year, along with being used a ton in the pass-blocking game and being off the field on third down. That’s how crazy this year has been.”
When Allen is at his best, he’s a dominant run blocker that can force a defense off-balance by breaking down the field as a receiver. The Patriots will put him in a position to maximize his skill set.
Allen was extremely efficient as a slot receiver in 2016
The Patriots utilized Bennett as a slot tight end in 2016, asking him to run 41.3% of his receiving routes out of the slot, per Pro Football Focus. Bennett averaged 1.59 yards per route run from the slot. The Colts had Allen run 50.3% of his routes from the slot and he collected 1.72 yards per route run, the 11th most efficient rate for a tight end in the NFL.
Allen can transfer his ability as a receiver right into the vacancy left by Bennett in the Patriots offense.
Bennett recorded 5.5 targets per game with the Patriots with Gronkowski on the field. Allen fielded 5 or more targets just five times over the past two seasons (27 games), but turned those 29 targets into 21 receptions for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns. Over the course of a full season, that’s 67 receptions for 749 yards and nearly 10 touchdowns.
Allen won’t affect the compensatory pick math and fills draft need
If the reports that Bennett is seeking $9 million per year are true, then the Patriots will likely receive a 2018 third or fourth round compensatory draft pick. The compensatory draft pick process forces the Patriots not to sign an unrestricted free agent to an equivalent deal, or else the Patriots will not receive the third or fourth round compensatory pick.
Acquiring Allen via trade means that the Patriots have filled a need without negatively affecting the compensatory draft calculus. The Patriots might have decreased their talent level at tight end going from Bennett to Allen, but check out this balance sheet:
Bennett ($9 million) + 2017 fourth round pick
Allen ($5.8 million) + 2017 sixth round pick + 2018 third or fourth round pick
Which side would you take? There’s a pretty fair argument for both sides and that just highlights the Patriots method of team building. Every player comes with a talent:price ratio and New England is trying to maximize that ratio at every turn.
Also, the Patriots no longer have a huge need at tight end as they enter the draft, which gives the team freedom to take a developmental tight end, versus a plug-and-play early round selection.
Allen also brings closure to DeflateGate
Full disclosure, I just needed to find a way to incorporate this tweet into my analysis.