Patriots

Matt LaCosse opt-out is not a knockout to Patriots tight end group

Patriots

My first reaction to news Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse was opting out of the 2020 season? Uh-oh.

Which really didn’t make any sense. LaCosse was part of a punchless tight end group in 2019. He was hurt in the Patriots first preseason game and when he returned he caught 13 passes in the 11 games he played.

He is not a diamond in the rough. He’s not a player the whole league’s been sleeping on since he was drafted in 2015. He’s a lower-level player subtracted from a lower-level group. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

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But his departure does create ripples. The main one being that the Patriots are now ride-or-die with their two rookie tight ends, third-rounder Devin Asiasi and fourth-rounder Dalton Keene.

Honestly, they probably already were. LaCosse was a placeholder. A break-glass-in-case-of-emergency stopgap until Asiasi or Keene assimilated.

Losing LaCosse just throws them into a fire they were headed for anyway.

But tight end is not a plug-and-play position in the Patriots offense. It’s historically been described as one of the toughest to learn because tight ends are vital parts of both the running and passing games. Even if the scheme shifts post-Brady, it’s not likely to get much easier.

Of the tight ends on the roster, Asiasi is easily the one to be most bullish about. Dave Spitz, who trained elite NFL tight ends Austin Hooper and Zach Ertz, worked with Asiasi to get ready for the Combine.

 

"(Asiasi) has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination. Plus he brings his own set of qualities. As a route-runner, he's just gonna be so difficult to defend at the next level."

He’s also seen as an above-average blocker and he’s got a lot of room to grow in both areas. He’s got a high ceiling.

Keene is a maniac as a blocker and a very good athlete that makes plays with the ball in his hands.

"Just a hard-working, tough, no-regard-for-his-health type guy," an AFC tight ends coach told NBC Sports Boston prior to the draft. "Does a lot. Tough. Mauls. Throws his body around. Probably a late-round guy. Not going to be anybody's No. 1, but a pretty athletic dude. Could survive as either a 'Y' or an 'F' but he's a little bit of a 'tweener. Not [Aaron] Hernandez, but better than your fullback. Not elite. A little bit stiff, but fun to watch."

Bill Belichick said Keene’s learning curve would be steep because he just didn’t do at Virginia Tech many of the things the Patriots do.

Aside from Keene and Asiasi, there’s Ryan Izzo. The team seemed to have high hopes for him at the start of last season but he was staggeringly uncompetitive as a blocker and was put in mothballs. The team also has two undrafted rookies, Rashod Berry and Jake Burt.

The free-agent tight end market, which the Patriots decided not to dip into, is now pretty lean. There are good players who’ve fallen out of favor or into disuse in their current cities (David Njoku and O.J. Howard), but with so much uncertainty for every team, deals are unlikely to be happening with much frequency until rosters are more set, opt-outs have ended and teams understand the overall health of their team relative to COVID-19.

So – to a large extent – what you see at tight end right now is probably what you’ll get.