Patriots

Jets head coach Adam Gase not convinced Rob Gronkowski is done playing football

Jets head coach Adam Gase not convinced Rob Gronkowski is done playing football

Jets head coach Adam Gase doesn't seem all that convinced that we've seen the last of Rob Gronkowski on the football field.

Gronkowski announced his retirement Sunday via a statement on Instagram, and the Patriots tight end seemed adamant about his decision. But players have changed their minds before, which has Gase taking a "believe it when I see it" approach to the news that Gronk will no longer be giving him headaches.

“I had a couple people text me, 'I’ll believe it when we walk out there and he’s not out there',” Gase said on The Adam Schefter Podcast. “I think he released a statement, but I don’t know. I’ve seen so many guys go back and forth. I just know he’s a great player and if he’s not there, that’s going to be a transition for them.”

Gase isn't the only one who believes a return is possible for Gronkowski. Even Gronk's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wouldn't rule it out.

But assuming Gronkowski's career indeed is over, the Patriots are left with a massive void at the tight end position. Gase, formerly the Dolphins' head coach, explained just how much of a nightmare it was to gameplan for the future Hall of Famer.

“It was always a matchup issue,” Gase told Schefter. “You always had to decide, ‘Do we put a corner on him? Do you put two guys on him? Put a safety on him?’ He caused all kinds of problems and opened up a lot of things for them, whether it was other wide receivers, run game – he’s a tough guy to go against one-on-one.”

It remains to be seen whether Gronk will have a change of heart somewhere down the road. For now, though, it looks like the Pats will have to either fill his spot via the free-agent market or the upcoming NFL Draft.

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Next Pats Podcast: Breaking down Prototypical Patriots and a brand new 7 Round Mock Draft

Next Pats Podcast: Breaking down Prototypical Patriots and a brand new 7 Round Mock Draft

In the latest Next Pats Podcast, Phil Perry asks some questions of NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, talks about his prototypical Patriots, and discusses his latest seven-round Patriots mock draft.

3:05: Perry explains his strategy for trading during the draft.

5:05: Jeremiah's offers his thoughts on the 2020 quarterback class.

8:05: A quote from Patriots executive Nick Caserio on building a team and whether or not they need a quarterback.

11:20: Discussion on prototypical Patriots begins, starting with quarterbacks.

17:45: Jeremiah's thoughts on which quarterbacks will be the best fit for the Patriots, including veteran NC State quarterback Ryan Finley.

19:37: Perry dives into wide receiver and tight end prototypes, focusing on Terry McLaurin, Miles Boykin, and Foster Moreau as some of the top guys that fit the Patriots' mold.

21:45: Patriots-specific mock draft analysis begins and Perry compares his first pick in the Patriots' mock draft to current Patriot Patrick Chung.

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Patriots have backed themselves into a corner at tight end

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Patriots have backed themselves into a corner at tight end

Forty tight ends have been drafted since 2016.

The Patriots have taken one – Ryan Izzo from Florida State with the 250th overall pick last year. He was the 15th tight end drafted.

Even with the sand running out of Rob Gronkowski’s career hourglass, the Patriots spent their picks on three defensive backs (including the departed Cyrus Jones in the second round of 2016), four linebackers from whom they’ve gotten a total of 47 games played (44 from Elandon Roberts) and three offensive tackles — none of whom have played a regular-season snap.

Hey, but a lot of those guys got hurt! Indeed they did. Productive careers may still await Isaiah Wynn, Duke Dawson, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Sam. Godspeed Antonio Garcia. But the point is, the Patriots have been fiddling around at other spots while the tight end position burns.

Seven of the drafted tight ends last year had 20 or more catches, and four had more than 30, led by the Jets' Chris Herndon and Carolina’s Ian Thomas. They were both fourth-round picks. The 2017 crop included three first-rounders, Evan Engram of the Giants and Tampa’s O.J. Howard. They have 257 receptions between them. The most productive pass-catching tight end from that draft is George Kittle, a fifth-rounder from Iowa who’s made 131 catches for 1,892 yards.

In 2016, there were no first-round tight ends but San Diego’s Hunter Henry (81 catches, 1,057 yards in 2016 and ’17) and Atlanta’s Austin Hooper (139 catches, 1,457 yards in three years) were both third-round picks.

There have been many tight ends talented enough to produce at the NFL level that New England passed on drafting.

Meanwhile, the non-Gronk production at tight end from Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen and Martellus Bennett over the past three seasons combined is 72 catches for 856 yards. And Bennett contributed 55 of the catches and 701 of the yards.

Amid this crisis, the Patriots have struggled to three Super Bowls appearances, winning only two. Yeah, yeah, yeah, fine.

And the team has added 26-year-old Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, who is six feet, five inches and 262 pounds of untapped potential after catching passes from the likes of Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick (the bad Jets version).

It’s time for them to dive headlong into the position and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said on Quick Slants the Podcast this week that – even though they’ve waited – this is a very good time to do it.

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After discussing the deep but seemingly not elite wide receiver crop, Dimitroff said, “When we’re talking about the tight ends, that’s kinda flipped. Usually tight ends are going to be in that spot where they are seconds and thirds but there are a number of (good) tight ends.

“I think there will be potentially two in the first round and then there’s another group that will go in the second round,” he added. “That’s never the way it used to be. You used to be able to find a tight end in the third round, so this is a good group.”

The consensus top two are T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant from Iowa. We’ve done much reporting on them. There’s also Irv Smith from Alabama and Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M then Kahale Warring and Dawson Knox from San Diego State and Ole Miss respectively.

The Patriots are going to find a tight end. Maybe more than one. And they will get Izzo back and maybe he makes strides. Meanwhile, Hollister is a good pass-catcher; he just hasn’t stayed healthy enough to make an impact and gain trust.

But the fact remains it hasn’t been a priority position in the draft for New England. And that’s not just in the past three seasons, when a lot of good tight ends came into the league, but going back to 2014 which is the draft following the arrest and release of Aaron Hernandez. Izzo and A.J. Derby are the only tight ends they’ve drafted since 2014.

Bennett, Allen and Scott Chandler are the only veteran tight ends who’ve come in and caught passes.  

Now they need to nail it.

Click here for Phil Perry's Mock NFL Draft 5.0>>>>

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