The Patriots revolutionized offense in the NFL in 2010 when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Together, they terrorized defenses until Hernandez’s arrest prior to the start of the 2013 season. Sure the offense has still been exceptional in the time since then, but it has not been as good as it was when it boasted two of the five best tight ends in the league. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, the Patriots have run a total of 4,015 snaps with two tights on the field since 2010, the next closest team in the span is the 49ers with 3,173. Assuming an average 70 offensive snaps a game, which is just over the NFL average, over six full NFL regular seasons that is 60% of all snaps run with two tight ends on the field.
Having one great tight end is a matchup nightmare for teams, but two is a never ending horror story. The greatness of Rob Gronkowski speaks for itself, but Hernandez was unique because he was so versatile. You could line him up in the slot, on the wing, out wide, in the backfield, and of course on the line. He was a receiver in a tight end’s body. Having him, Gronk, and Welker on the field at the same time meant someone was going to be open on every play because all two of them require double teams to truly slow them down. The problem was he was a horrific blocker, making him pretty much one dimensional from the standpoint of what type of play would be run when he was on the field. This has also been the problem with Scott Chandler and Tim Wright, who were the first 2 attempts to replace Hernandez. Michael Williams on the other hand couldn’t run or catch. Not only did this make the offense predictable, it left them out to dry with no viable backup if Gronkowski was to get hurt (see 2013).
The answer to this problem? Trade for the tight end who’s skill set matches that of Gronk more than any other player in the NFL. Martellus Bennett is 6 foot 6, 273 pounds and is a freak athlete. He is not as shifty as Hernandez was, nor is he the same receiver as Hernandez or guys like Travis Kelce or Tyler Eifert are now, but he is a good receiving tight end and an outstanding run blocker. According to Reiss Gronk led tight ends with 28 receptions when lined up out wide and Bennett was tied for third with 19. Unless you have some combination of Jamie Collins and Kam Chancellor on your defense good luck cover both Gronk and Bennett at the same time, and even then it still might not be enough.
The possibilities are endless for what the Patriots can run with Gronk, Edelman, Bennett, and Dion Lewis on the field at the same time. All of them are virtually uncoverable when healthy, but it’s not just about what they can do in the pass game. Adding Bennett means you can put 2 tight ends on the field and not give away whether it’s going to be a run or a pass. The Patriot’s offense was good before trading for Bennett, but now it has the potential to be all time good if everyone stays healthy this year.