Patriots positional review: Tight end roundup

Patriots positional review: Tight end roundup
February 12, 2014, 5:15 pm
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ROB GRONKOWSKI
AGE: 24 (5/14/89)
STATS: 7 games, 66 targets, 39 catches, 592 yards, 4 TDs
CONTRACT: Expires after 2019 (team option after 2015)
2014 CAP HIT: $5.4M ($3.75M salary, $1.65M prorated bonus)
 
The aftereffects of Gronk’s 2012 forearm break kept him sidelined until the Patriots seventh game, whereupon Tom Brady threw him the ball 17 times in a loss to the Jets. Over the next six-plus games, the looks kept coming until Gronk’s knee was blown out on a low-strike by Browns safety T.J. Ward. That tore his ACL and injured his MCL and ended his season. A cautious approach to his 2014 return should be anticipated as well. The 2014 and 2015 seasons are critical to Gronkowski in terms of earning potential. The Patriots have an option on Gronk in March of 2016. If they pick it up, Gronk will start realizing the back end of his contract. If not, the team will be out of his renegotiated deal after four years and $28 million spent. It behooves Gronkowski to take his time. Every breathless observation on how he looks and prediction about when he’ll return should be taken with a grain of salt until he is activated on a game day. He’s gotten a good look at his football mortality. That Gronkowski was thrown at 66 times in his time on the field in 2013 shows how much Brady relies on him. Aside from the quarterback, the trickle-down effect when Gronk’s gone is also seen in how defenses treat players like Shane Vereen or the New England wideouts. Vereen saw 45 passes in the four-game stretch he and Gronkowski played together and 14 in the final three regular-season games when Gronk was gone. Aside from Brady, Gronkowski is the Patriots most important offensive player. But, with Aaron Hernandez gone, his importance has grown too great. The Patriots need to get him a running mate at tight end to keep the heat off Gronk when he’s in there and to take the sting out of his absence when he’s gone.
 
MICHAEL HOOMANAWANUI
AGE: 25 (7/4/88)
STATS: 13 games, 19 targets, 12 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD
CONTRACT: free agent
2014 CAP HIT: none
Over the next two weeks, Tom E. Curran will analyze the Patriots position-by-position as we head into the offseason. Today: Tight ends. Tomorrow: Wide receivers.

A dependable player who can block and be a once-in-a-while target in the passing game. He’s not fast enough to get great separation or big enough to box people out but he’s got good hands for traffic catches when necessary. He’s likely to be retained since the Pats-Hooman situation is mutually beneficial. He’s got a place to work and the tight end role in the Patriots offense is very involved and he comprehends it.
 
MATTHEW MULLIGAN
AGE: 29 (1/18/85)
STATS: 15 games, 3 targets, 2 catches, 16 yards, 1 TD
CONTRACT: free agent
2014 CAP HIT: none
A dutiful blocker and end-of-roster type who can be replaced by a younger, more versatile player. Not ruling out his return but an upgrade is in order.
 
DJ WILLIAMS
AGE: 25 (9/10/88)
STATS: 2 games, 1 target, 0 catches
CONTRACT: Expires after 2014
2014 CAP HIT: $645,000
 
The 2010 John Mackey Award winner while at Arkansas, Williams had 54 catches that year. He’s not gotten a toehold in the NFL. Bounced from Green Bay (as a fifth-rounder), through Jacksonville and now on to New England. He’s got an excellent opportunity in front of him right now and he’s kind of in a do-or-die spot in his football career.