Patriots TE Camp Competition: Life after Gronk

Leading up to the opening of Patriots training camp 2019, will take a position-by-position look at the competition for roster spots and roles this summer in New England.

Tight End

Overview: After coming up huge to lift the Patriots to another Lombardi with game-changing plays in both the AFC title game and Super Bowl LIII, future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement this offseason. While there is certainly plenty of speculation that Gronk could change his mind at some point this fall, as we head toward training camp tight end is a major question mark for a team that has generally put a pretty big emphasis on the position.

Players (season #): Benjamin Watson (16), Matt LaCosse (4), Ryan Izzo (2), Stephen Anderson (3), Andrew Beck (R)

Coaching: Nick Caley is in his third season leading the Patriots tight ends, the youngest position coach on the offensive staff. The impressive youthful coach, who is part of the long list of New England personnel with ties to John Carroll University, will have a much more difficult job compared to his two seasons overseeing a Gronkowski-led depth chart.

Competition: Things are pretty wide open heading into camp at the tight end spot, and not just because of Gronkowski’s departure. Despite rumors and theories that New England might trade for a veteran – Kyle Rudolph was the hot name – or use a high pick at the position, neither ever came to fruition. Now, the former first-round pick Watson ends his own short-lived retirement to return to his first NFL home as he approaches the age of 40. LaCosse, who had a very impressive spring in shorts, looks to prove himself worthy of a breakout season in a tight end-friendly offense a year after setting career highs in Denver with 15 games, five starts, 24 receptions and one touchdown. Izzo spent a year on IR and has impressed internally, but must prove he’s an NFL-caliber option even if just in a role as mostly a blocker.

Prediction: While LaCosse may be in line for a nice opportunity in New England, especially with Watson absent due to an NFL PED suspension for the first four games, all the focus will be on if/when Gronkowski will return. Lately – given his comments on an podcast and throwing session with Brady in LA – it feels like a Gronk return might be more likely than not. That would be a huge mid-season boon to the Patriots passing game and the excitement of the NFL, even if he’s a more situational pass-catcher than dominant two-way tight end. Even without Gronk and considering the questions at wide receiver, New England could get more statistical production in a group effort from the tight end spot than it did a year ago when big No. 87 had 47 of the 54 total receptions at the position. And as has been the case at other positions lacking depth over the years, additions to the roster via signing or trade cannot be ruled out, even after the regular season gets rolling.