Should the New England Patriots have tight end Gary Barnidge in for a visit?
Hundreds of players from all across the NFL will report to training camp this week including the New England Patriots. However, Gary Barnidge won’t be one of them. The former Cleveland Browns’ Pro Bowl tight end remains unsigned following his release from Cleveland this April.
Barnidge, who’ll turn 32 in September, has collected 178 catches, 2,258 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 124 games over eight seasons. The former Panthers fifth-round draft choice played four seasons with Carolina from 2008 to 2012 until joining the Browns in 2013.
In 2015, Barnidge earned his first Pro Bowl invite, hauling in 79 grabs for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 games with Cleveland.
Shortly after the Browns selected tight end David Njoku in the first round of the 2017 draft, Barnidge was let go.
Given the low-risk, should the New England Patriots consider signing Barnidge?
New England currently has six tight ends on the roster. Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are locks to make the team while Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy, Jacob Hollister, and Sam Cotton battle for the third tight end spot.
With Gronkowski and Allen already occupying the top tight end spots, Barnidge wouldn’t reach his 2015 numbers with the Patriots. He’d likely be used as a blocking tight end and contributor on special teams, a role Bardnidge is quite familiar with. The tight end said in a radio appearance, via CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin:
"“I have no problem being a No. 2 or whatever to help guys, but I also still think I have the ability to be a No. 1,” Barnidge said. “A lot of people don’t understand is that, my first seven years of my career, I don’t get to play a lot. I was always the second or third tight end, just playing special teams.”"
Barnidge played over 200 special teams snaps in 2012 and 2013. He finished last season with a career-low of 49 special teams snaps. If he’s willing to spend more time on special teams than offense, the Patriots may be willing to bring Barnidge in on a low-cost deal.
Production aside, New England may want to consider Barnidge for his blocking ability rather than receiving. According to Pro Football Focus’ analysis team:
"“Barnidge ranked 25th among 63 qualified tight ends last season with a 70.6 overall grade. His 76.0 pass blocking grade led all tight ends in 2016 but he ranked 50th with a run blocking grade of 43.6.”“Barnidge’s 123 pass blocking snaps last season lead all tight ends as he allowed just three total pressures.”"
If Barnidge was as good a run blocker as he is a pass blocker, the Patriots might be more enticed to sign him. With two capable blocking tight ends atop the depth chart, it’s unlikely that Barnidge would have a chance to contribute on passing downs.
New England could deploy Barnidge on running downs as the third tight end in a 13 personnel, although, they prefer using offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as a jumbo tight end in that role instead.
Barnidge’s high receiving production in 2015 and 2016 was heavily due to his 900-plus offensive snaps. As the third tight end on New England’s depth chart, he wouldn’t receive the same number of pass-catching opportunities as he did in Cleveland.
If Dwayne Allen struggles in training camp, the Patriots could show interest in signing Barnidge. But as of now, New England has no role for him to fill.