If the New England Patriots want to go with Mr. Outside Hire for their starting tight end, they’ll have to consider options other than Kyle Rudolph.
The eight-year NFL veteran agreed on a four-year extension with the Minnesota Vikings Monday night, effectively ending any chances that the Patriots might acquire Rudolph as a replacement for the retired Rob Gronkowski. The signing was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Rudolph was in the final season of his five-year contract, leading to speculation that the Vikings might attempt to trade him before he entered free agency. Additionally, dealing Rudolph could have created some salary cap space. Those rumblings got louder when Minnesota used their 2019 second-round draft pick on Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr.
The Patriots emerged as a natural trade partner when Gronkowski announced his retirement in March. Rudolph may not be as explosive a pass-catching threat (he’s never had a 1,000-yard receiving season, while Gronkowski has had four), and isn’t as good a run-blocker. But he was viewed as the best, most complete tight end who was likely available. Last year, Rudolph caught 64 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns.
However, Rudolph agreeing to a contract extension with the Vikings now makes that a moot point. If the Patriots aren’t confident in their tight end situation through training camp and the preseason, and into the first half of the regular season, the team will have to look elsewhere.
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New England added depth during the offseason to bolster depth, signing Ben Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The two of them may have combined to help replace Gronkowski’s production. But Watson will miss the first four games of the 2019 season to serve a PED suspension, while Seferian-Jenkins requested a one-month personal leave and was released.
Both players could return, however. The Patriots have not ruled out bringing back Seferian-Jenkins when he’s ready to return, and sitting out four games may prevent Watson, 38, from wearing down toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
During last week’s minicamp, Matt LaCosse appeared to emerge as the top candidate to start at tight end. LaCosse, 26, signed a two-year deal with the Patriots in March. He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown for the Denver Broncos last season.
Stephen Anderson will also likely be in the mix. In 2017 with the Houston Texans, Anderson, also 26, notched 25 receptions for 342 yards. He spent last year on the Patriots’ practice squad and is viewed as more of a receiving threat, though he’s undersized for the position compared to LaCosse. Anderson says he added 10 pounds during the offseason, but doesn’t want to bulk up so much that it affects his speed.