Pick through the free agent scrapheap
No one can blame Rob Gronkowski for wanting to retire after nine incredibly-effective but injury-riddled seasons playing professional football. That said, you could forgive Patriots fans for being a bit salty over the timing of his decision.
If Gronk had announced right after the Super Bowl that he was riding off into the sunset as a three-time world champion, the pain of losing him would have stung just as much… but at least New England could have approached free agency with an extra $10 million to work with. They also would have known to prioritize tight end as an area of need, and perhaps would have been more aggressive in their courtships of free agents like Jared Cook, Jesse James, and Tyler Eifert.
As it stands now, 14 of the 15 top-rated free agent tight ends on WalterFootball.com have already been signed or re-signed to other teams. Only Austin Seferian-Jenkins, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, and Jacksonville Jaguars, remains unsigned from those top 15 players.
The Patriots should know Seferian-Jenkins well from his two seasons spent in the Big Apple playing with the division rival Jets. The 6’6, 262-lb tight end is a former second-round draft pick and he’s still only 26 years old, but he’s drastically underwhelmed in all his stints around the league thus far. New England would be making a massive downgrade going from Gronkowski to Seferian-Jenkins.
Unfortunately for the Patriots though, there’s not a whole lot to like behind Seferian-Jenkins on that list, either. Belichick can kick the tires on a number of veterans that might sound familiar to fantasy football players from four or five years ago: Richard Rodgers, Jermaine Gresham, Dion Sims, or Lance Kendricks.
He could also try and bring back someone with familiarity in the Patriots offense. Both A.J. Derby and Michael Hoomanawanui have previously spent time in Foxborough, though neither obviously did enough to last. Still, there’s something to be said for knowledge of the playbook.