On Thursday, the New England Patriots acquired tight end Michael Roberts via trade from the Detroit Lions: the reigning world champions will send a conditional 2020 draft choice to Detroit in order to get the two-year veteran on board. Bringing the 25-year-old on board is a low-risk investment for the Patriots given that he is still on his rookie contract and the club is not giving up anything of substantial value to get him.
In this sense, Roberts becomes the latest example of the approach New England took at his position this offseason: the Patriots keep throwing tight ends on the proverbial wall and hope that they will stick. It’s as simple as that, and fellow free agency acquisitions Matt LaCosse, Benjamin Watson, and the since-released Austin Seferian-Jenkins further show it. The Patriots try to be cost-effective in filling out the depth chart.
And why wouldn’t they be? After all, the next (or the actual) Rob Gronkowski — the future Hall of Famer, of course, announced his retirement in March — is not walking through that door. Instead, the Patriots are trying a similar approach they used at wide receiver last year: get different players with different skill sets together and see which ones work best within the framework of the offense that is just being created.
Roberts, for example, was seen as a moderately athletic prospect entering the draft process in 2017 with a good frame as a red area and zone coverage target and decent blocking abilities. Injuries slowed down his development after he entered the NFL as as fourth-round selection by the Lions, but the Patriots apparently still think enough of him to take a flier. And, who knows, maybe a chance of scenery will help him get back on track.
The same has to be said for Matt LaCosse, who looked solid in minicamp as a pass catcher and might be on his way to earn the TE1 role with Benjamin Watson suspended for the first four weeks of the regular season. He has shown flashes but little more over his first four years in the league, but the Patriots apparently felt strongly enough about him to sign him to a two-year, $4.8 million contract in free agency.
LaCosse and Watson now occupy the more ‘well-rounded’ portion of the position depth chart, with Stephen Anderson more of a receiver, and Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck primary blockers. Roberts does not quite fit in any of the categories given his rather specialized usage in Detroit, but if there is one team in the NFL that has consistently shown an ability to get the most out of its players it is the Patriots.
And when it comes to the tight end position of the post-Gronkowski era, it seems as if they are banking on this again: with the exception of proven commodity Watson, New England has taken on various levels of developmental skill and is trying to form them into a serviceable tight end depth chart. How the results will look like has yet to be seen, but the Patriots are certainly trying their best to give themselves as much chances as possible to succeed.