Detroit Lions: Tight end expectations are low this year
The Detroit Lions did discuss a trade for tight end Rob Gronkowski. But this season should be more about blocking from the tight end position.
So far, as organized team activities (OTA’s) have ended, the one consistent report is that players at the tight end position have not stood out for the Detroit Lions.
Certainly cutting ties this year with tight end Eric Ebron meant losing some talent. While Ebron didn’t live up to expectations, he was a weapon in the passing game. Just not so much in the end zone: just 11 touchdowns in four seasons.
According to a report on Monday from NESN.com, general manager Bob Quinn did have discussions about bringing tight end Rob Gronkowski (nicknamed “Gronk”) into the Lions fold. Gronkowski is, of course, the All-Pro tight end for the New England Patriots.
While the talks never reached the point of an actual trade, the idea that Gronkowski was even on the Detroit radar is very interesting. Gronk’s numbers are outstanding. In eight seasons, he has scored 76 touchdowns and averaged 15.1 yards per reception.
The upside of adding a player like Gronk is clear: the Lions offense would be formidable in terms of the passing game. And quarterback Matthew Stafford would have a plethora of options on every snap. But pulling the trigger on such a trade may have some disadvantages as well.
THE NEGATIVES OF GRONK
Still, there is a downside to bringing in Gronk:
- Cost – To get Gronkowski, the negotiations would probably start with a first round pick, and it may even take multiple picks. If he went on to play the next five years in Detroit, then that would be fine. But Gronk’s time in the NFL may be limited. Giving up assets for a just a year of service would not be in the best interest of the team.
- Injuries – Gronk did play in fourteen games last season, but he was dealing with some nagging injuries. And he was unable to reach double-digit touchdowns. In 2016, he only played in eight games, and was on the sidelines when the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. These injuries have made Gronkowski’s eye wander just a bit.
- Other Interests – Gronk has threatened retirement the past couple years. He seems destined to try his hand at acting or professional wrestling. Gronkowski is only 29 years old, but instead of entering his prime, it seems like his career is reaching its end. He wants something beyond his football career, and patience isn’t his strong suit.
It would be great to have a big-time mismatch like Gronkowski in a Detroit Lions uniform next season. But, as of now, it isn’t happening. That leaves Detroit with a different outlook at tight end this season.
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As constructed, the Detroit Lions may not see a lot of production from the tight end position. In 2018, that may only mean around 40 receptions and a handful of touchdowns.
Most of that production would probably be spread between two tight ends: Luke Willson and Michael Roberts.
Willson has looked best so far during the OTA’s. If the season began tomorrow, he would probably start the first game. Willson has never had more than 22 receptions in a season. His best touchdown output was last year when he had four for the Seattle Seahawks.
Then there is Roberts. He was drafted by Quinn last year and showed very little in his rookie campaign: four receptions in 15 games. He certainly has a great build and the advantage of entering his second year in this offense. So, hopefully those numbers will take a giant leap.
Kicking the tires on acquiring a guy like Gronkowski makes sense. You always try to add talent to your roster. But in this case, the risk may have been larger than the possible reward.
In terms of 2018, the tight end position lacks any high end talent in terms of receiving skill. Detroit will probably focus on run blocking from the position. Any receptions will just be a bonus.
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This may give Detroit the run/pass balance that they so desperately need. Whereas an addition like Rob Gronkowski may only make the Detroit Lions more committed to throwing the ball.