New England Patriots: Five Ways to Replace Aaron Hernandez’s Production

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2. Free Agent Tight Ends

December 23, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Dallas Clark (44) . Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are more than a few free agents available at the tight end position with training camp around the corner, and it seems very possible the Patriots look to add depth and upgrade the position there if only for extra bodies to bring into camp. Two of the biggest names that come up are former Patriots tight end David Thomas and former Colts tight end Dallas Clark.  However, there are still veteran tight ends on the open market including former New York Giants tight ends Travis Beckum and Kevin Boss.  Other names on the free agent market include Visanthe Shiancoe who was briefly in New England last year, former Seahawk Evan Moore, long-time Dolphin and Chargers tight end Randy McMichael, and former Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley.

Granted, none of these tight ends offer the playmaking, athleticism and skill of Hernandez, but there are few tight ends that possess those skills as it is. The apparent best fit would be veteran Dallas Clark. Although slowed by injury and age, Clark is similar in size to Hernandez, and played the same role (in a very different offensive system, of course) as Hernandez as a match-up problem for many coaches around the league, especially Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel on the New England defense. Clark has great hands (drops are very rare) which would endear him to quarterback Tom Brady.  Miles of tread left on him as well as price tag (would he play for the veteran’s minimum with minimal bonuses?) are the concerns with Clark.

A name that is often not brought up (kudos to Doug Kyed at who was one of the first to note his potential fit with the Patriots) is former Giants tight end Travis Beckum.  Though never having put all his athleticism together before tearing an ACL in the Super Bowl against New England (yes, he was the other Giants tight end injured in that game) Beckum has experience in the slot and is another athletic tight end often flexed out.  Similar to Ballard, Beckum had ACL surgery but the Giants brought him back during the season (he was on the PUP list, where they tried to sneak Ballard through waivers to put on) for four games, but he never got all the way back and was put on injured reserve before the final game of the season.  He is intriguing prospect if healthy, but health concerns have held up any signing of the Giant’s 2009 3rd round pick.

The other former Giants tight end is Kevin Boss, who has serious issues with concussions that may make him too big a risk for any team, no matter how needy at tight end. The allure of the Giants tight ends is that while the Patriots offense and Giants offense are fundamentally different, the Patriots modified “Ron Ernhardt/Ray Perkins” offense requires receivers to run option routes where they have to be in sync with the quarterback and read the defense the same way and adjust their route accordingly.  The Giants offense, often referred to as the “Streak and Read” is different, but but shares the same roots and is run along the same design which has the quarterback and receiver makes adjustments like the Patriots when running their routes based upon the defense.  Having run these option routes, it lessens the chances of another Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson debacle at wide receiver.  That is another plus for Dallas Clark as well, as Tampa Bay installed former Patriots and Giants offensive coach and coordinator Chris Palmer’s offense last season and gave Clark a year of experience running option routes (Pittsburgh, for fans hoping that Emmanuel Sanders finds his way to New England next off-season, still runs the base Ron Erhardt offense from when he was offensive coordinator there and is likely a large part of the offseason allure of Sanders from a Patriots perspective).

Evan Moore is big and athletic and was a wide receiver in college and yet has consistently underperformed everywhere he has been.  With Chip Kelly in Philadelphia not even giving him a shot to make the team, he may have no shot to land in New England. David Thomas played in New England and New Orleans, but lacks the athleticism to play at joker any longer. Also, he was not the solution when he was in New England previously.  Shiancoe struck out last year and is unlikely to return.  McMichael seemed washed up years ago, and Cooley is considering retirement. At this point, Clark and Beckum look like the best outside options.