Before the New England Patriots decided to trade the 32nd overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for Brandin Cooks, some wondered if they would draft Alabama tight end OJ Howard or Miami tight end David Njoku. Both elite athletes unsurprisingly heard their names called on the first night of the draft, as Howard joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Njoku was scooped up by the playmaker-hungry Browns.
The Browns decision to trade up for Njoku left Gary Barnidge in a bind. After Barnidge greeted Njoku to the Browns last night on Twitter, he sent out a tweet on Friday that he has been released by Cleveland.
I want to thank the Cleveland Browns for giving me my opportunity and looking forward to seeing the change. Time for the next step.
It’s a surprising move, because Barnidge emerged as a legitimate star in 2015 with Josh McCown as the primary starter. Barnidge caught 79 passes for over 1,000 yards in a shocking breakout year, and it didn’t look like a fluke either. After being a plodding, seldom-used blocker with the Carolina Panthers for years, Barnidge looked like a dynamic pass-catching tight end. He made a few circus catches and entrenched himself as a starter.
Forced to play with a carousel of quarterbacks in 2016, Barnidge didn’t have a great follow-up year, but he did manage to haul in 55 passes. That’s quality production on a one-win Browns team, and Barnidge is still capable of doing more at the age of 31.
The Patriots seem to be set at the tight end position heading into the second day of the draft, because they traded for former Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen earlier this offseason. Allen replaced Martellus Bennett, who starred for the Pats after Rob Gronkowski went down with an injury. Gronk is the NFL’s premier tight end, but his history of injuries has always made the No. 2 tight end gig in New England something of a marquee spot.
Allen, who was once tabbed a breakout star for his pass-catching potential and quality blocking, looks like a stellar backup. However, some are wondering if the Patriots could add a third star tight end. It isn’t just fans either, because Pats Pulpit’s Rich Hill believes that Barnidge could be an “excellent” pick-up for the Patriots. In a poll that accompanies the article, many fans stated that they would also like to see Barnidge in New England.
It will be interesting to see how much Barnidge will cost. I don’t anticipate him being expensive or commanding more than a one-year deal, but the Patriots might be less inclined to spend on him than other teams. They have the cap space to add him, so that isn’t the issue. However, the Patriots would be signing Barnidge as a No. 3 tight end, and that means they might not be willing to allocate as much money to a third option as another team would spend on Barnidge, who could feasibly be another team’s best tight end in 2017.
The Patriots have made it clear in the past that they are willing to use talented players frequently, regardless of position. So if they felt that they could get enough snaps out of Barnidge, they might be willing to make a competitive offer. The problem is that both Gronkowski and Allen are already talented pass-catchers who can be in-line tight ends in an offense, so it’s hard to see what Barnidge offers that those two don’t.
Barnidge is talented and has a much better recent track record than Allen, who has struggled ever since he injured his hip in 2013, but the name of the game in Foxboro is versatility. While Barnidge is versatile compared to other tight ends in this league, it’s hard to say that he’s more versatile than Gronkowski or Allen.
If the Patriots decide to toss their hat into the ring for Barnidge’s services, nobody should have any qualms. Barnidge is a good football player, and he isn’t expensive; those are two decent reasons in my book. The Patriots current tight end duo of Gronk and Allen is excellent, but the names behind them are as uninspiring as most depth tight ends in this league.
For those who think that the Patriots talent at tight end makes it impossible for them to consider Barnidge, it is worth keeping in mind the structure of Allen’s contract. Based on the fact that the Pats went out of their way to trade for Allen, it’s safe to say that they have plans for him. However, they aren’t hitched to him either, because he has no dead money on his contract after 2017, per Over The Cap.
If a change of scenery isn’t enough for the 27-year-old to turn things around, then the Patriots can safely cut Allen. That could leave a void at tight end beyond 2017, so if they think that Barnidge has a couple of years to give them, they could make a move. It’s more likely the Patriots fully address the position in 2018 once they have a season to evaluate Allen, but you never know just how much Bill Belichick and the front office values a player like Barnidge.