A very timely Debate Friday, as we're centering our discussion on the news that TE Benjamin Watson, a former first-round pick of the Patriots, has signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns. This, on the heels of the recent release ofChris Baker, who signed a long-term free agent deal with New England only a year ago.
With both Baker and Watson gone – they were the two main contributors at the position for the Patriots last season – that leaves just two players on the New England roster at tight end at the moment: practice squanders Robbie Agnoneand Rob Myers. Clearly, tight end has become an area of need for the Patriots.
Or has it?
That brought the *Patriots Football Weekly *staff to this week's Debate Friday topic:
Has the tight end position been de-emphasized by the Patriots?
Read the writers' arguments, then cast your vote in our weekly poll below.
Andy Hart says, "No!"
Bill Belichick'ssupposed strength, a theory to which wholeheartedly I subscribe, is putting players in position to make plays and take advantage of their own strengths. When players prove they can't perform their jobs consistently, Belichick either gives them a lesser job or gets rid of them.
So let's look at Benjamin Watson, a clear first-round disappointment in New England. Over the years he proved two things beyond a shadow of a doubt – that he couldn't stay healthy and couldn't catch the ball with enough consistency when it was thrown to him.
So, what did Belichick, Brady and Co. do? They made Watson less an emphasis in the offense, took advantage of his developing skills as a blocker and looked elsewhere more often with the passing game.
Watson was supposed to be a Pro Bowl talent, a freakish package of athletic skills. But when he was the best option for the passing game – on a wide receiver thin 2006 Patriots team – he didn't exactly dominate. When he was packaged with elite talents around him like Randy Mossand Wes Welker, he couldn't maximize his opportunities in regards to big plays, mismatches and changing games as a middle-of-the-field playmaker.
What's that tell us? That Watson wasn't a very good football player and clearly not a guy capable of consistently making plays at a high level.
But if the Patriots did get a proven tight end weapon – either a young player who will actually live up to his potential or a veteran talent – I think Tom Bradywould take full advantage of the option. Give Brady Patriots Hall of Famer Ben Coatesto work with and he'd fall in love with him and use him. I can't think of a single player that Brady hasn't gotten maximum production out of over the years. This is a guy who squeezed the most juice possible from the likes of Jermaine Wiggins, J. R. Redmond, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Marc Edwardsand others. Guys he couldn't get the most out of – Doug Gabriel, Daniel Graham, Joey Gallowayand others – didn't find any more success elsewhere.
In the end, I think Brady got the most out of Watson. Maybe he'll surprise me and become a more important, contributing part of the offense in Cleveland. More likely, I think he'll be an inconsistent player in their passing game and a good blocker. Six years into his NFL career, that's what he's proven to be.
And I think if the Patriots fill the current void at tight end with a more consistent, legitimate option, then Brady will take full advantage. He has the ability to spread the ball around as well as any quarterback in the game. He sees the field in its entirety. Give him a guy in the middle who'll be where he's supposed to be and catch the ball when it's thrown to him and Brady will us him. Watson wasn't that guy. Maybe, hopefully, the next guy will be and the New England offense will be better off because of it.
Paul Perillo says, "Yes!"
This may be more about semantics than any specific philosophical approach, but I feel the Patriots have intentionally gotten away from using the tight end regularly in the passing game. It's important for teams to play to their strengths, and the Patriots strengths throwing the football involve their two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Perhaps if the receivers were less talented, as was the case back in 2006 when Reche Caldwell was the top wideout, then the tight end would be more prevalent in the offense. So, I guess it could be argued that if the talent level were reversed things might be different.
But the biggest factor for me in this argument comes when you watch how the offense operates. It's been a pass-heavy approach out of spread formations for Tom Brady over the past few seasons, and when you do that, it's important to have adequate protection. The tight ends have been part of that and Brady was sacked just 16 times last season. Again, the strength of the position is blocking, not catching.
More importantly, Welker and Kevin Faulkcatch a ton of passes in this offense in areas where tight ends traditional operate – underneath zones against linebackers. There are a few truly gifted tight ends who can get downfield consistently and occupy safeties like Antonio Gates, but most are possession guys who average between 9 and 11 yards per catch. That's precisely what Welker does, thereby eliminating the need for a tight end to fill such a role for the Patriots.
Personally I think it's logical that the Patriots would want to keep the ball in the hands of their playmakers as much as possible. So, using the tight ends as blockers and letting the wideouts and backs catch the ball makes sense to me. As long as Moss and Welker remain productive, I don't see this changing, regardless of whom Bill Belichick decides to line up at tight end.
Cast Your Vote
You've read the debate. Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote. Do you think the have de-emphasized the tight end position?