Patriots

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He 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."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.

NFL Twitter explodes with reaction to Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' reported contract

NFL Twitter explodes with reaction to Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' reported contract

Patrick Mahomes has fully committed to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The superstar quarterback, who led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl LIV triumph last season, reportedly has agreed to a massive 10-year contract extension worth $450 million. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news.

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Mahomes is the best player in the NFL and, at only 24 years old, could lead the Chiefs on a dominant run of success over the next decade. In his two seasons as the Chiefs' starting quarterback, Mahomes has a 24-8 record, a 4-1 playoff record and a Lombardi Trophy. He also won Super Bowl LIV MVP and the 2018 NFL MVP.

Given his age, talent and potential, it's not surprising that NFL Twitter was pretty fired up about Mahomes and the Chiefs extending their partnership through 2031 (he has two more years remaining on his current contract).

Here's some of the best Twitter reaction to Mahomes' massive contract extension.

NFL rumors: Chiefs' Patriots Mahomes agrees to huge 10-year contract extension

NFL rumors: Chiefs' Patriots Mahomes agrees to huge 10-year contract extension

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to be a tough opponent for the New England Patriots and the rest of the AFC for many years to come.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes reportedly has agreed to a massive 10-year contract extension, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Mahomes has two more years left on his current deal with Kansas City, so this extension would keep him with the Chiefs for 12 more seasons.

The Chiefs won their first Lombardi Trophy in 50 years last season when Mahomes led a fourth quarter comeback against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Mahomes won Super Bowl MVP, adding to the NFL MVP he won during the 2018 campaign. The 24-year-old quarterback has thrown 76 touchdown passes with only 17 interceptions in the last two seasons (30 games played).

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Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league, and his résumé through three pro seasons -- the last two of which he's been the full-time starter in Kansas City -- is absolutely astounding.

What does this news mean for the Patriots?

Well, the Chiefs aren't going anywhere. Kansas City will continue to be a top contender in the AFC as long as Mahomes is healthy. He has a 25-8 record as a starter in the regular season, in addition to a 4-1 playoff record that includes a Super Bowl title.

The Chiefs also have been one of the league's highest-scoring offenses (32-plus points per game) in the league over the last two seasons, and no lead is safe when Mahomes has the ball. The Patriots found that out first hand during the 2018 AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. New England held a 14-0 halftime advantage, and it also led 24-21 and 31-28 late in the fourth quarter before losing both and having to play overtime. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady won the game in the OT period with an incredible touchdown drive on the first possession.

The AFC title win in 2018 was one of two victories for the Patriots in three matchups versus Mahomes. New England beat him twice in 2018 and lost in the 2019 regular season when the Chiefs earned a 23-16 Week 14 win at Gillette Stadium.

The Chiefs will play the Patriots again in the 2020 regular season in a Week 4 matchup at Arrowhead Stadium. You can bet the Patriots and Chiefs will play plenty more times throughout the length of Mahomes' reported extension, and it would be pretty fun if some of those games came in the playoffs.