FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Within the first five years of Bill Belichick's tenure as New England Patriots head coach, he used two first-round draft choices on tight ends -- Daniel Graham in 2002 and Benjamin Watson in 2004.
That is often cited as an example of how he values the position, which has been an ongoing theme in his 16 seasons at the helm.
The idea is that if a team has two “combination” tight ends that show an aptitude in both the running and passing games, it can create havoc for a defense from a matchup standpoint.
When the defense matches “12 personnel” (one back, two tight ends) with its base package, the Patriots have shown a willingness to spread the field and throw it against what is generally a bigger defense best equipped to stop the run. In turn, when a defense plays a smaller sub package best suited to defend the pass against “12 personnel,” the concept is to turn to the running game.
By acquiring tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears on Tuesday night, the Patriots gave themselves the best chance to have that dynamic in their 2016 attack, assuming Bennett buys into the program, which didn't always happen in Chicago.
So it will be 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski and the 6-foot-6, 273-pound Bennett -- two big “combination” tight ends, potentially providing endless combinations of possibilities.
Since 2013, Martellus Bennett is second in the NFL among TE in yards after contact trailing only...Rob Gronkowski. pic.twitter.com/Sp5GElwTeS
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 16, 2016
Some additional thoughts:
Economics a factor. Bennett is scheduled to earn $5.08 million in 2016, the final year of his contract. The Patriots are willing to assume that contract, which they can more easily absorb after trading Chandler Jones. So essentially what the Patriots did over the past two days is redistribute their financial assets between defensive end and tight end.
Strong response after 2015 disappointment. Belichick thought he had the makings of a strong 1-2 punch at the position last season after signing Scott Chandler to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $5.3 million. The team invested a lot of time in spring camps and training camp with Gronkowski and Chandler working together with Tom Brady, but it never came to fruition on the field and Chandler was released in March. Michael Williams, a converted offensive tackle, did his best to fill the void but he is more road-grader than pass-catcher. This is an authoritative follow-up to address a critical position in the offense, as there simply wasn't an immediate impact tight end of Bennett's caliber available in free agency or the draft.
Will Bennett fit in Patriots culture? Belichick often says that when a team acquires a player, it gets everything that comes with him -- on and off the field. Along those lines, few are questioning Bennett's on-field fit in New England, but those who describe Bennett as a mercurial personality wonder how he'll adapt in the Patriots' culture. Sometimes those situations produce dynamic results (e.g. Corey Dillon in 2004, Randy Moss in 2007), while other times they flame out quickly (e.g. Chad Ochocinco in 2011). Given the tremendous upside on the field, this is a risk worth taking for the Patriots. In the final year of his contract and playing with Brady, one would think Bennett's motivation to put his best foot forward will be strong.