Patriots

Patriots meeting with draft's top tight ends at the NFL Combine

Patriots meeting with draft's top tight ends at the NFL Combine

The New England Patriots have an uncertain future at the tight end position. Rob Gronkowski's future is murky and there have been some rumblings that he might retire. Considering these rumors and his injury history, it's hard to trust him moving forward.

Elsewhere, top backup Dwayne Allen has a $7.3 million cap hit in 2019, so he may need to restructure his contract if he wants to remain in New England.

With those major questions surrounding what has become a critical position in the Patriots offense, it's no surprise that the team is looking into some of the top tight ends at the 2019 NFL Combine.

According to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, the team has already met with or plans to meet with Noah Fant, Irv Smith Jr., Jace Sternberger, Kaden Smith, and Isaac Nauta at the combine. It's clear that the team is intent on scouting this tight end class heavily and may be interested in adding one early.

Of the group, Fant and Irv Smith Jr. stand out as potential first- or second-round options. Fant has scored 18 touchdowns over the course of the past two seasons despite playing with another potential first-round tight end prospect, T.J. Hockenson, and has previously been mocked to the Patriots in the first-round by NFL Network's Charley Casserly.

Meanwhile, Smith Jr. had a breakout year at Alabama playing with Tua Tagovailoa, catching 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns.

The tight ends will work out and do on-field drills on Saturday at the combine, along with the wide receivers and quarterbacks.

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NFL conference championships see ratings drop without Patriots

NFL conference championships see ratings drop without Patriots

Love 'em or hate 'em, the New England Patriots garner the attention of the masses.

That was evident during last year's AFC Championship game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, when an average crowd of 53.9 million people tuned in to watch the Patriots win in an overtime thriller and advance to Super Bowl 53.

To put that into perspective, this year's late-window matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers drew only 42.7 million viewers, per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily.

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Of course, much of that discrepancy has to do with Pats-Chiefs being far more competitive than Packers-Niners. Plenty of viewers likely tuned out of the latter matchup when San Francisco led Green Bay 27-0 at halftime.

Even so, it just goes to show how much more attention is paid to the NFL playoffs when Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of New England is involved. This year's AFC Championship featuring the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs marked the first without the Patriots since 2011, and it was the smallest audience (41.1 million) for an AFC title game in 11 years.

In comparison, the early game in 2019 (Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints) averaged roughly 44 million.

The Chiefs and 49ers will meet in Miami for Super Bowl 54. It'll be interesting to see how those ratings compare to last year's Patriots-Rams matchup.

Perry: Examining the state of the offensive line

George Kittle celebrated Super Bowl berth with hilarious Jimmy Garoppolo shirt

George Kittle celebrated Super Bowl berth with hilarious Jimmy Garoppolo shirt

George Kittle had a little fun with his quarterback after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers in Sunday night's NFC Championship Game to clinch a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

The All-Pro tight end showed up to his postgame press conference with a custom t-shirt that included a shirtless photo and autograph of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Check it out in the tweet below:

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Garoppolo was asked by reporters about Kittle's shirt, and he couldn't hold back his laughter.

“I got him earlier in the week with a shirt, showed it to the media and everything, so he had to get me back a little bit," a smiling Garoppolo said, per 95.7 The Game. "I thought it was a nice shirt he had on. Maybe we’ll get them in the team store soon.”

Garoppolo is no stranger to the Super Bowl. He made two Super Bowl appearances with the New England Patriots as Tom Brady's backup, and in two weeks he'll make his first start on that stage.

The 49ers quarterback hasn't had to play at an elite level for his team to reach the Super Bowl, but that should change in Miami on Feb. 2. The AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs have an offense that looks unstoppable right now, so Garoppolo likely will need to play one of his best games as a pro to give San Francisco a strong chance to win its sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

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