The New England Patriots opened Friday with a bang. Not only did they re-sign defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, they also plugged arguably the top tight end available from the free agency market: Mike Gesicki is joining the team on a reported one-year contract worth up to $9 million.
There will be plenty of analysis of the move in the coming days and weeks, but for now let’s focus on what it means from a big-picture perspective.
Two-tight end sets are back on the menu. The Patriots had plenty of hope for their two tight end acquisitions in the 2021 offseason, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. However, Smith in particular never developed into the focal point the team expected him to become — leading to his trade to the Atlanta Falcons earlier this week.
With Gesicki now in the fold, the Patriots have two starter-level tight ends on their roster again. The 27-year-old will serve as a complementary piece alongside Henry, with Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington serving as depth options behind the two.
New England adds a receiving tight end, first and foremost. The Patriots value versatility in their tight ends, but Gesicki is more of a one-dimensional option at the position: in 2022, he served as either a run blocker or pass protector on just 20.6 percent of his offensive snaps (104 of his 505).
For comparison, the man whose roster spot he is effectively taking over blocked on 56.9 percent of his snaps. Jonnu Smith had 240 blocking reps compared to 182 as a receiver or ball-carrier.
New England is, of course, well aware of this difference in usage. So, make no mistake, while he is being added to give the team another high-profile option at the tight end position, he will not be employed like Smith was last season.
Mike Gesicki is one of the most linear players in the NFL— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 17, 2023
Explosive straight line. Explosive jumps. Vertical. Turns like a boat. Awful after the catch. And definitely not a TE
Has more wide snaps than inline (358 vs 166) over last 2 yrs, and obv way more slot than anything else pic.twitter.com/5qXenBIIfX
Gesicki should help address the Patriots’ red zone woes. The Patriots offense did not just add an experience pass catcher to the equation by signing Gesicki, they also increased the average high of their receiving corps. Standing at 6-foot-6, 247 pounds, he is now the biggest skill position player on New England’s roster.
Adding a player of this height in particular — for comparison, Jonnu Smith is 6-foot-3 — should help the team address one of its biggest issues last year: insufficient red zone production. Gesicki is a jump-ball threat and together with Hunter Henry (6’5, 250 lbs) and DeVante Parker (6’3, 218 lbs) gives quarterback Mac Jones some solid catch radius to target near the opposing goal line.
“He’s a hard guy to cover,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Gesicki back in December. “Long. He’s a good, crafty route runner. He’s slick, but he can get down the field. Very good hands, makes some acrobatic catches. Has enough quickness to separate. That’s another hard guy to cover on third down, well on any down. But when you talk about those possession downs, he’s effective.”
Gesicki has a history with Bill O’Brien. Gesicki spent his college career at Penn State, and while he arrived after Bill O’Brien’s departure in 2014, he was recruited by the Patriots’ current offensive coordinator while still in high school. The two crossed paths again a few years later, when the then-Houston Texans head coach worked at the Senior Bowl alongside the future second-round draft pick.
“Coach O’Brien already knows me,” Gesicki said at the time (via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer). “He knew me in high school and had met my parents. We talked Xs and Os. We talked about my film, and the potential that I have, and where they see I would play, and at what position.”
Five years later, Gesicki and O’Brien will get a chance to finally join forces.
Tight end might still be a target area in the draft. A look at the Patriots’ current tight end depth chart shows that the team might still have to address the position in the draft even with Gesicki added to the mix. After all, no member of the group is signed beyond the upcoming 2023 season:
- Hunter Henry: 28 | Signed through 2023
- Mike Gesicki: 27 | Signed through 2023
- Matt Sokol: 27 | Signed through 2023
- Scotty Washington: 25 | Signed through 2023
While Henry appears to be an extension candidate — a move that might also help decrease his current $15.5 million salary cap hit — the fact remains that no tight end will be under contract at this time next year. So, adding long-term talent to the roster is still relatively high up on the list of offseason priorities.
Luckily for the Patriots, this year’s tight end class is one of the deepest in recent memory. Notre Dame’s Michael Meyer is the consensus top option, with other potential top-100 picks including Luke Musgrave (Oregon State), Darnell Washington (Georgia), Dalton Kincaid (Utah), Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State), Sam LaPorta (Iowa) and Zack Kuntz (Old Dominion).
The contract will be cheaper than initially reported. When first reported, Gesicki’s contract was described as a one-year deal worth up to $9 million. That “up to” is key, and agent speak for making a contract look bigger than it actually is.
It is therefore entirely possible that a significant part of the pact is propped up by incentives that will not factor into the initial salary cap calculations. Expect Gesicki’s cap impact to come below that $9 million figure.
Gesicki will factor into the compensatory draft picks formula. As with every qualifying free agent signed or lost, Gesicki will also impact New England’s compensatory draft picks haul for next season. At the moment, the team is not projected to earn any additional capital: while wide receiver Jakobi Meyers was lost, the team also picked up fellow wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and offensive tackle Riley Reiff.
While Gesicki’s contract structure will determine whether or not he will qualify for the calculation as well (unlike running back James Robinson or offensive tackle Calvin Anderson, for example), it is safe to assume that he will.
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