If we are doing a state of the union on the Houston Texans' roster, as things currently stand, I would say it boils down to a few things:
* Signing Tyrann Mathieu put some last minute shine on what was largely a "wait and see" bargain hunt in free agency by GM Brian Gaine.
* We should pray for health for Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt.
* There are still some gaping — I mean, like in all caps, GAPING — holes on the depth chart, specifically at left tackle and tight end.
That's where this post comes in, at "tight end." Perhaps you have heard that the New England Patriots are experiencing their most significant roster attrition and rumored locker room turmoil of the Brady/Belichick Era. The reports of unrest go all the way back to the latter portion of the 2017 season, where ESPN.com had a huge piece painting a picture of toxic discord between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The overall Patriot disharmony carried into the postseason and beyond, and was punctuated with the benching of Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, a loss in which the Patriots defense allowed Nick Foles to pass for 373 yards and take home the game's MVP. The Butler decision reportedly split the Patriots locker room, and perhaps continued the gradual disintegration of Bill Belichick's empire.
Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola... these are all players who played prominent roles in New England's success the last few seasons, and now they've all left in free agency. Individually, each of those players is probably replaceable. Hell, Julian Edelman didn't play a snap in 2017, and he will be back to slide right into Amendola's spot. But collectively, that's a lot of horsepower leaving the building.
Now, though, come the rumblings that a player who would be MUCH harder to replace wants out. The rumors popped up last week on the website Boston Sports Journal (subscription needed), where Greg Bedard reported the following about tight end Rob Gronkowski:
“A Bill Belichick-friendly source agreed with my thinking that once a player makes Belichick start to contemplate life without him, Belichick starts to warm to being without that player. “He imagines you gone,” he said. The longer Gronkowski goes without saying he’s all in, the chances of him being traded increases, the source said.
Gronk quelled some of those rumors over the weekend, claiming he would likely be back with the Patriots in 2018, despite his growing weary of Belichick's management style. However, Belichick has made a habit in recent years of shipping out players, GOOD players, who give off even the slightest stench of non-conformance to the Belichick Way, which largely entails taking less money than others would pay, and having to deal with a complete abomination of a management style from your head coach.
Oh, also, winning. Belichick has historically done a lot of that. (Helps having Tom Brady, just saying.)
In the past few years, Belichick has shipped out linebacker Jamie Collins and edge rusher Chandler Jones, to mixed results, because those players were going to require big paydays when they hit free agency. Belichick doesn't play that game. Gronk is still under contract for two more years, but Belichick may be questioning just how "all-in" the big tight end is on being a Patriot. (Oh, that's another Belichick thing — you must be "all in.")
So the first question becomes "Would Belichick trade Rob Gronkwoski?" It's my contention that a guaranteed healthy Gronk could probably take a dump on Belichick's desk and not get traded. However, "Gronk" and "fully healthy" don't often collide in the same sentence. He's had four seasons where he's missed five games or more, and his injuries range from back to arm to knees. Thus, it is also my contention that an unhappy and possibly UNHEALTHY Gronk is the exact 50-50 line for the "Would Belichick trade him?" question. I think that's truly a coin flipper. The right offer might get it done.
That brings me to the next part of the equation, the first part I mentioned up above — the Houston Texans need a tight end. BADLY. After the premature retirement of C.J. Fiedeorowicz, the tight end depth chart is Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, and a bunch of practice squad level guys. The Texans could use a tight end who can block, and they could use a tight end who can catch. Gronk is elite at both.
So I'm sure you're saying "Wow, hot take, Sean! GET GRONK! No $#@%, Sherlock! How do you plan on doing this?" Well, if Gronk is available, the Patriots are likely going to want draft capital, which kind of screws the Texans if it's 2018 draft capital the Pats seek, what with the Texans lacking a first and second round pick this year.
So I would try this to see if it works — offer the Patriots their choice of the two second round picks the Texans have in 2019. (The extra one is Seattle's from the Duane Brown trade.) If that doesn't work, I swallow hard, and offer the Texans' first round pick in 2019, knowing with two second round picks, getting back into the first round in 2019 via trade is still doable.
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If that doesn't work — here we go — I would offer Whitney Mercilus and see what happens. Mercilus is coming off a fluke pectoral injury, but has been largely durable throughout his career. Certainly, way more durable than Gronk. He fills a need for the Patriots, since the trade of Jones has left them without any semblance of a fearsome edge rusher. Also, Mercilus is on a VERY reasonable contract, making just $10.5 million over the next TWO seasons. If you need to sprinkle in one of your third round picks this season, then do it.
Brian Gaine has made it clear, the team will do everything they can to help Deshaun Watson. Certainly, an elite defense can do that, and Mercilus can be a key piece to an elite defense. But an All-World tight end helps more.
Make the call, Gaine. If the Patriots hang up, you've lost nothing.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.