Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Tight end
Gronk and Co.
By Tom E. Curran and Phil A. Perry
This is the eighth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots by Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry as we head into the offseason. Today's position: Tight end
Rob Gronkowski, 26 (Signed thru 2019)
Scott Chandler, 30 (2016)
A.J. Derby, 24 (2018)
Michael Williams, 25 (2016)
Obviously, the Patriots are very strong at the top but wafer-thin past Gronk. And that’s why this position demands some offseason attention. Scott Chandler was a disappointment, making just 23 catches in his first season with the team. I think, given more time, he and Tom Brady could develop better chemistry but it’s debatable whether Chandler will get that time. He just wasn’t ready, it seemed, for the game-speed velocity of some throws from Brady and smaller defenders were easily able to get into Chandler’s lower body and leverage him off the ball, negating his size advantage. Brady isn’t known for having limitless stores of patience for a receiver once he feels he can’t trust him to make plays and it seemed like it got to that point with Chandler. Michael Williams is a converted tackle playing tight end, a heavy-legged player with reasonably soft hands. He is not the shifty, smart, versatile complement to Gronk that’s needed. Could A.J. Derby be that? It’s almost impossible to handicap his chances. A sixth-round choice last April, participated in exactly one training camp practice before landing on IR. A knee injury suffered his senior year at Arkansas was what plagued the converted quarterback who’s got nice quickness and athleticism but is raw as steak tartare. Ya know who wouldn’t be bad? Tim Wright, who’ll be a restricted free agent with the Lions. I still don’t get how he fell into complete disuse in 2014 and wound up getting waived last summer. Not that he ripped it up in Detroit, but it still puzzles. Expect this position to be addressed.
It's a foregone conclusion that the Patriots will pick up the remainder of Rob Gronkowski's $10 million option bonus to keep him around through 2019. (He was paid $4 million before the start of last season, meaning the remaining $6 million will be shelled out before the start of the 2016 league year on March 9.) That gives Bill Belichick and his staff the game's best tight end at a very affordable cost. But how does the depth chart shake out after Señor Fiesta? Tight end-turned-tackle-turned-tight end again Michael Williams is under contract for one more year at $525,000, according to Spotrac. He's affordable and proved effective in his role as a blocker. He should be given an opportunity to stick around. AJ Derby is an intriguing player, but an unknown. A decision looms with Chandler. On the one hand, he looked like a matchup nightmare early in the season when paired with Gronkowski in the red zone. As the year wore on, Chandler dealt with a knee injury that apparently slowed him down. When serving as the team's primary tight end with Gronkowski out, he didn't seem to be nearly the insurance policy he was projected to be in training camp, and late in the season he was all but entirely fazed out of the offense; he played a total of 34 snaps in the team's last five games of the year, including two playoff games in which he saw 14 plays and did not catch a pass. Was he simply too injured to contribute? Or did he lose the confidence that Tom Brady and his coaches had in him early in the season? If it's the latter, expect the Patriots to reduce his $3.05 cap figure for 2016. If released and allowed to hit free agency, the Patriots would save $1.525 million against the cap.