The Patriots are not playing in the Super Bowl, which is a statement that has become a rarity in this day and age. It’s only happened one other time in the past half-decade. This gives fans of New England’s football team a rare opportunity to watch the biggest game in all of sports with little to no emotional attachment aside from any residual feelings left from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. It also gives fans a chance to see something they were missing this year on their own team (for the first time in a long time): a great tight end. Two of them, actually.
The Super Bowl matchup between the 49ers and Chiefs will feature perhaps the two best tight ends in the league right now in Travis Kelce and George Kittle. The matchup highlights both the value of a great tight end in today’s NFL and the Patriots need to find a replacement for Rob Gronkowski quickly after a year without a reliable option at the position.
It’s not just this year either. Most of the recent Super Bowl champions have featured an elite tight end. Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, George Kittle and Travis Kelce have been staples of winning teams and it’s no coincidence. Every Super Bowl champion since 2014 has had a Pro Bowl caliber player at the position on their team, including the Patriots with Martellus Bennett in 2016 when Rob Gronkowski was injured. Having a matchup nightmare at tight end is a massive advantage for teams and it shows as the league’s best players at the position continue to win. Too fast for linebackers, too big for defensive backs. Get a good player at the position and there’s really no player in the NFL that can guard them.
It can’t be said that the lack of a tight end is the sole reason the Patriots are not in the Super Bowl this season, but it certainly played a major factor. The offense struggled to get into a consistent rhythm and while most chose to blame the wide receivers on the team, it was the tight end position that was undoubtedly the team’s biggest weakness.
This past season, the Patriots ranked dead last in the NFL in receptions by a tight end. That’s a massive drop off. Even if you want to dismiss the importance of the position as a whole, you can’t ignore the massive shift between having arguably the greatest tight end of all-time one year and then having the worst tight end situation in the NFL the next. The Patriots statistical leader at the position, Ben Watson, ranked 45th among tight ends in receptions, 47th in yards and in a tie with every benchwarmer in the league for dead last in scores with 0 touchdowns.
Whether it comes via free agency or in the draft, the Patriots need to find a fix to what can only be described as perhaps the worst Patriots tight end group in team history. New England has had a long history of great tight ends from Ben Coates to Rob Gronkowski and what was put on the field this season is a disgrace to the legacy of those great players. The quality present at the position in this year’s Super Bowl only amplifies the Patriots need for drastic improvement at the position in the coming months.
The drama regarding Tom Brady’s future will only make it more difficult for the Patriots to focus on one of their biggest needs this offseason and if Brady does leave, fans can only hope that the Patriots will do a better job at replacing their legendary quarterback than they did at replacing their legendary tight end.
Photo: (Tony Avelar – AP Photo/Gary Landers – AP Photo)