With Aaron Hernandez now out of the picture and Rob Gronkowski possibly on the PUP list, the New England Patriots have some questions to answer at the tight end position. Jake Ballard can feasibly replace Gronkowski for a chunk of time, but replacing Hernandez is something that would likely need to be solved through a schematic change. There might not be time for the Patriots to do that, and an option for the Pats is to try and add a tight end who can replace Hernandez at least somewhat in scheme and in production. I’ve heard many people speculate about Tony Moeaki of the Kansas City Chiefs as a potential addition for the Patriots, but Dallas Clark looks like the best option for the Pats if they don’t want to stay put with Gronk (potentially out for the first six weeks), Ballard (coming off of an injury), Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, and Zach Sudfeld.
There is definitely no guarantee in the Patriots adding another tight end, but I certainly don’t see the harm in signing Clark. Whereas the Pats would have to send a draft pick to the Chiefs for Moeaki, Clark would come on the cheap as the best free agent available at the tight end position. Mike Reiss suggested Clark as a top option for the Pats, and that was definitely a great suggestion from Reiss. It would be preferable for the Patriots to sign a cheap free agent at the position instead of trading for somebody, because the Pats already have plenty of depth at the position. What they are missing is a steady player who can move around the formation, and Clark is that player.
Moeaki is questionable for training camp after a knee scope, and he is injured more often than Clark. He was also much less productive than Clark last season, and the Patriots would be gambling on Moeaki if they traded for him. While he has more upside and could be a solution in the future for the Patriots, Clark is more of a sure-thing in the short-term, and I think that’s what the Patriots need. They need a stabilizing force who can replace some of what Hernandez brought to the table, solidify the position, and give the Pats a chance to worry about changing the offense or even finding a long-term Hernandez replacement next offseason.
Clark doesn’t average many yards per reception (less than ten last season), but he is a terrific possession receiver. Last season, Clark caught 47 passes with four touchdowns, and he has one of the surest hands at the position in the NFL. A one-year deal without any guaranteed money would be a perfect deal for the Pats, and there is very little risk in signing Clark at that kind of the deal. The reward? A tight end who can move around the formation, play as an H-back, and also be a productive pass-catcher and a known commodity. The Patriots have plenty of blocking tight ends, but they lack a sure-fire pass-catching TE behind Gronk and Ballard.
The Patriots have enough depth at the position to where it makes no sense for them to pull a trade. They would likely be overpaying for a TE on the trade market, and all they really need is a cheap, solid veteran in Clark if they want to add somebody into the mix. I was doing some digging on the Pro Football Focus, and Clark averaged only .02 less yards per route run than Aaron Hernandez last season when lined up in the slot. Clark can play as a slot TE if needed, and he definitely fits the team as a No. 3 TE. If the Pats are going to add anybody, then it is pretty clear to me that Dallas Clark is their best option.