Orchestrate a trade for another team’s player
If the Patriots don’t think they can find a suitable replacement in the bargain bin of free agency, a better alternative might be trying to swing a trade for a tight end on another team.
Again, New England is in a bit of a pickle here, as the tight end position is particularly top-heavy when considering the pool of possibilities around the league. For years now, there was Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, and then there was everybody else.
Jimmy Graham isn’t the player he once was. Jordan Reed can’t stay healthy to save his life. David Njoku is still young and unproven. Zach Ertz and George Kittle are both ascendant talents, but neither one looks likely to leave their current teams anytime soon.
Who does that leave? Again, not a whole lot…
The Minnesota Vikings have gotten fairly consistent production out of Kyle Rudolph over the course of his eight-year career, and he’s the same age as Gronk. They share similar physical attributes, both are exceptional receivers, and both know how to bulldoze opposing linebackers and safeties on their way down the field. Gronkowski is a better blocker and a more talented all-around weapon for his offense, but Rudolph has a much cleaner bill of health historically.
If the price was right, perhaps Minnesota GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer would consider making a personnel transaction with Belichick. The Vikings fell short of lofty expectations last year but are still very much in win-now mode; if Belichick could dangle the right pieces (or the right picks in this year’s draft), maybe the Vikings consider shipping Rudolph east and then finding his replacement in this draft or in the next one.
Cameron Brate in Tampa Bay is another interesting option for the Patriots to consider. The 27-year-old Harvard graduate has put up some surprisingly consistent numbers over the past four seasons, averaging 457 receiving yards and 5.75 touchdowns per year. Those aren’t eye-popping stats, but they’re more than serviceable.
What’s more, the Bucs already have a starting-caliber tight end in O.J. Howard. A 2017 first-round draft pick, Howard put up 432 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie across 14 games. His sophomore NFL season was cut short by injuries, but he still managed to log 565 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 games.
If the Patriots do decide to try and find their next tight end via trade, either Rudolph or Brate would be a great place to start potentially.