New England Patriots 2019 training camp primer: Tight ends

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With Rob Gronkowski retired and (so far) uninterested in making a comeback, the Patriots find themselves exceptionally thin and unproven at tight end.

“Easy come, easy go.”

That may as well be the unofficial motto of the tight end position in New England this past decade.

One second, Bill Belichick is revolutionizing the NFL by unveiling two tight end sets featuring twin terrors in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The next second, Aaron Hernandez is being charged with double homicide and getting released by the team.

The Patriots rebound by funneling their offense more exclusively through Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski gets injured and is out for the season (again), and New England must pivot once more.

Gronk shakes off various ailments to look like his old self in back-to-back phenomenal performances against the Chiefs and Rams in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively, leading many to think he may have not lost a step after all. Less than two months later, Gronk announces his retirement from the NFL and rides off into the Hollywood sunset.

The one through-line underscoring this rollercoaster ride is Gronkowski, a player the Pats drafted in 2009 with the hopes that he could grow into a fully-functional, multi-dimensional tight end. Even Belichick probably never dreamed that Gronk would go down as one of the greatest to ever play his position – a rare bit of luck considering that his career coincided with those of the greatest quarterback and head coach duo to ever do it either.

Unless he has a major change of heart though, Gronkowski appears dead-set on exploring a life post-football. That means that for the first time in 10 years, the New England Patriots will enter training camp facing an ocean of uncertainty at the tight end position.

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