With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the focus is now entirely on 2020. The next important point on the offseason agenda will be free agency, which starts on March 18 and projects to be a big one for the New England Patriots: not only does the team have 19 players whose current contracts will expire — including quarterback Tom Brady — it also will need to use its limited resources to build a foundation for the upcoming season.
Up until the start of free agency, we will therefore take a look at some players who might interest the Patriots. Today, the series continues with tight end Nick Vannett.
Position: Tight end
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6’6, 260 lbs
Experience: Vannett originally entered the NFL as a third-round draft selection by the Seattle Seahawks back in 2016. While he had some solid production during his time in Seattle, he never quite lived up to his draft status and failed to establish himself as a true number one tight end. As a result, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers last September for a fifth-round pick. In Pittsburgh, Vannett served primarily as a depth option.
2019 statistics: 16 games (3 Seattle, 13 Pittsburgh); 21 targets, 17 receptions, 166 receiving yards
2019 salary cap hit: $606,118
Free agency status: Unrestricted
View from Pittsburgh
We asked Jeff Hartman from Behind The Steel Curtain to share his thoughts on Vannett:
Vannett was an in-season trade for the Steelers with the Seattle Seahawks. He was primarily the TE2 on the team, but was promoted to TE1 when Vance McDonald was out with an injury. It is truly tough to gauge Vannett’s value to a team considering the Steelers were so handcuffed with backup quarterbacks in 2019 after Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury. Vannett is an average blocker, has above average hands but lacks in athleticism. A good pickup for someone who is looking to solidify their depth at the position, but certainly not worth top dollar as a tight end prospect.
As has been pointed out numerous times here at Pats Pulpit, the Patriots need to upgrade their tight end position this offseason after failing to get consistent production out of it in 2019. Bringing in Vannett would likely not be the sole solution to New England’s tight end woes — his performance over the last four years suggests that he is best used as a depth option — but he might be another piece of the puzzle as an experienced depth option.
As such, the soon-to-be 27-year-old would see rotational action on offense and in the kicking game while being put in specific situations that fit his skillset: he would primarily be used as an in-line blocker or red zone receiver to take advantage of his size and hands. Expecting much more out of him would be naive given his track record, but as a complementary piece — think: Dwayne Allen in 2017 and 2018 — he might carve out a role.
However, Vannett would not be a lock to make the team in case the Patriots indeed pick him up by in free agency. Instead, he would rather be an additional competitor for a depth spot behind the only two tight ends currently on New England’s roster: Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo, who will both be fighting for their roster lives this summer and are similar tight end-types as the former third-round draft pick.
Vannett has not proven himself capable of succeeding as a team’s number one tight end four years into his career, and the Patriots will likely approach his free agency accordingly. That being said, he could still become a comparatively cheap depth option to compete with the likes of LaCosse and Izzo and potentially be an upgrade over both of them as a number two at the position. Bringing in Vannett would therefore be a complementary, low-cost move if nothing else.