Sunday 7: Patriots have potential hidden gem at tight end, who could play role in 2019

Ryan Hannable
February 17, 2019 - 7:10 am

1. With the potential of Rob Gronkowski retiring, there’s been a lot of talk of the team replacing him via free agency or through the draft. While addressing the position’s future is a priority even if he doesn’t retire, it’s worth pointing out the team has a solid player who was stashed away on injured reserve this year — Ryan Izzo out of Florida State, who was selected in the seventh round of last year’s draft. “He was a player that we liked just in watching him,” director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the draft. “I mean, we’ve been watching Florida State over the course – they’ve had some different players at different levels offensively and defensively. We’ve been kind of watching this guy here for the past couple of years and just a solid, strong, consistent football player.” We’re certainly not saying the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is the next Gronkowski, but he was impressive last summer and in the preseason before being placed on IR when the initial 53-man roster was released, which meant he could not return. It wouldn’t be a complete shocker to see him essentially be an upgrade over Dwayne Allen, and then have the team add a veteran on a team-friendly deal (or keep Stephen Anderson if the team liked what it saw this year), while addressing the position high in the draft. Izzo has the potential to be as good of a blocker as Allen, but also pose a threat in the passing game.

2. Speaking of Gronkowski, we wouldn’t be surprised if he makes his decision on whether to play next season or not relatively soon. The Patriots need to know sooner rather than later, especially with free agency quickly approaching. If he’s no longer in the picture, they obviously need to find ways to replace him. From this viewpoint, it really makes sense for him to retire now and go out on top. There’s not much for him to really prove, and last year it was more obvious than ever just how much injuries have taken a toll on his body. Tom Brady will likely try and get one more year out of him, but from Gronkowski’s standpoint does it really make sense? And then what if the Patriots don’t repeat as Super Bowl champions, is he supposed to play again in 2020? Not many stars can say they retired after winning the Super Bowl, so Gronkowski should take full advantage.

3. Another move which could happen in the near future is a Brady contract extension. Right now, he’s signed only through 2019, but has a massive cap hit of $27 million. Not only will the team likely want to have him signed beyond this year, but also find a way for his cap hit this coming year to be lowered by spreading it out over a few years. This, along with a few other restructures, could take place so that the Patriots go into free agency with more than the roughly $19 million of cap space they have right now. It is worth pointing out Brady's last extension was reported on March 10, 2016.

4. As we’ve noted before, don’t sleep on Danny Etling when it comes to the Patriots quarterback situation. The team clearly was impressed by him this past season allowing him to travel to away games (practice squad players usually don’t) and be on the sidelines to work closely with Brady, Brian Hoyer and Josh McDaniels. Don’t be shocked if the Patriots do not select a quarterback this year and see what Etling is like in his second year. Remember, Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t all that impressive his rookie year, either. With young quarterbacks, especially ones who don’t play, time is needed to fully know what a player really is.

5. With all the drama between Antonio Brown and the Steelers, there’s been some speculation of the Patriots trying to make a run at him considering their need at receiver, but it is very unlikely to happen. Brown isn’t a free agent, he’s still property of the Steelers, so he will likely need to be traded and the Steelers aren’t going to deal him to the Patriots, their top competition in the AFC. While it’s fun to think about, there’s almost no chance of it happening.

6. Tuesday is the first day teams can elect to use the franchise tag on one player and that runs through March 5. Last year only four teams used the tag, so it certainly isn’t as popular as it once was considering just how expensive it is for teams. Players who get hit with the tag are signed to one-year deals worth the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position, or 120 percent of his prior year's salary. These players are still allowed to negotiate extensions through July 15, so they aren't 100 percent locked into those salaries. The last time the Patriots used the tag was 2015 when it was used on Gostkowski. After using it in four straight years from 2009-12, it has only been used once since.

7. Relating to this offseason, there are two Patriots who seem like top candidates to potentially get hit with the franchise tag — defensive end Trey Flowers and Gostkowski. The problem is the money may be too much. For defensive ends, the number is expected to be in the $18-19 million range, and that just seems like way too much to spend on one position, especially when a longer contract could possibly be negotiated for less money per year with Flowers. As for Gostkowski, franchising him would be about $6 million, which again feels like more than the team would be willing to go for a kicker. Our best guess as of now is the team doesn’t use the tag for the fourth straight year.

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