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Patriots 2021 offseason preview: Tight end position remains a work in progress for New England

Related: Patriots offseason preview: New England needs to upgrade its wide receiver position

NFL: JAN 03 Jets at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with eight teams left standing, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: after not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the 7-9 squad has a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins.

With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue things at tight end.

Devin Asiasi

Age: 23

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Asiasi has a salary cap hit of $1.04 million in 2021.

2020 review: Asiasi arrived in New England as the 91st overall pick in the draft last April, but had only a limited impact in his first season as a pro. Starting the year as the number two at the position behind veteran Ryan Izzo, he saw regular action but did not register any stats before missing seven games due to personal reasons and later on injured reserve. Asiasi did eventually return, though, and saw an uptick in playing time with Izzo himself getting placed on IR in December.

All in all, Asiasi finished the 2020 season with eight in-game appearances as well as two receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. He did spend the majority of his 213 offensive snaps as a blocker, though.

2021 preview: Even though it ended on a high note, Asiasi’s rookie campaign on the whole was a disappointment. And yet, he is a lock to be on the roster in 2021 due to his draft status and the potential he did show during what was a challenging season for all first-year players. The question is where he will find himself on the depth chart, and whether or not potential offseason acquisitions will impact his role.


Ryan Izzo

Age: 25

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Izzo has a salary cap hit of $867,268 in 2021.

2020 review: Entering his third year as a Patriot, Izzo was the most experienced member of the team’s tight end group. Despite the team having invested a pair of third-round draft selections in the position, he therefore started the season atop the depth chart — a spot he never left before being placed on injured reserve in mid-December. At that point, Izzo had appeared in 12 games with 13 receptions for 199 yards on his résumé.

Like Asiasi, he too primarily saw the field to block albeit on a much larger scale: Izzo finished the season with a combined 626 offensive snaps, 408 of which as a blocker.

2021 preview: Regardless of his status as the Patriots’ TE1 in 2020 and some good moments as a run blocker, Izzo is no lock to return for the final year of his rookie contract — at least in the same role. His ceiling, after all, is limited and recent as well as potential future investments might leave him as the odd man out. His experience in the system and small cap hit do work in his favor when it comes to a spot as a backup option, though, at least on the offseason squad.


Dalton Keene

Age: 21

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Keene has a salary cap hit of $1.02 million in 2021.

2020 review: The Patriots double-dipped at the tight end position during the 2020 draft, picking Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene 10 selections after Devin Asiasi. And like his fellow rookie, Keene’s impact on New England’s offense was rather marginal throughout the year: neck and knee injuries limited him to just six games, and he finished the season with only three catches for 16 yards.

2021 preview: Dalton Keene enters his first full offseason in the NFL in the same boat as Devin Asiasi: his rookie campaign was a struggle but he is a lock to be back in 2021 due to his draft status and developmental upside. As is the case with New England’s other tight ends, however, his role will likely be determined by the Patriots’ offseason moves on top of his individual development from Year One to Year Two.


Matt LaCosse

Age: 28

Experience: 6

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. LaCosse has a salary cap hit of $1.45 million in 2021.

2020 review: Entering the final season of the two-year pact he had signed with the Patriots in 2019, LaCosse ended up playing not even a single game for the team: the veteran decided to exercise the NFL’s Coronavirus opt-out clause in early August and subsequently spent the entire season on the sidelines. His contract, meanwhile, tolled into 2021 meaning that he would not enter free agency after the season.

2021 preview: LaCosse did not live up to expectations during his first two years in New England, with injuries slowing him down in 2019 and his opt-out costing him the 2020 season. His outlook for next year is therefore a murky one: everything from him getting cut to create additional salary cap space to him staying on the roster as an experienced rotational option appears to be on the table at the moment.