The Patriots made tight ends cool again. Prior to last year, a tight end was just something that gets you noticed on a Saturday night, but only if you happen to be standing beside, say, Tony Gonzalez.
Now since the Patriots did super awesome feats of strength with their tight ends last year, everyone else wants to grow a pair too. Often imitated but never duplicated until maybe this season, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez quickly became unique options at the position for Tom Brady.
Of the two, Gronk often handled the deeper duties last year and functioned as a mutant wide receiver in a tight end’s body, while Hernandez took on a more traditional role with the intermediate routes as he provided an outlet up the middle. Or at least it was traditional until later in the year when Hernandez started taking handoffs. That was just weird, but it worked because Belichick said so.
Now we’ll be seeing more experimentation and further mocking of traditional tight end values. After locking up Gronkowski to an eight-year deal worth $55.2 million earlier this offseason, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year contract extension Monday morning, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston. With Gronk under contract until 2019 and Hernandez signed thru the 2018 season between this extension and the year left on his current contract, the Patriots’ tight end tandem isn’t going anywhere.
For Patriots fans, this Monday instantly became less crappy, as long as you didn’t have an assortment of eggs and spinach hurled in your direction while walking to work. And for fantasy owners of Hernandez, and also Gronk and Brady in any format — but especially dynasty and keeper leagues — this already feels like a Friday. In fact, I give you permission to leave work, and go sign up for the navy. Don’t ask why, just do it.
Quick fun fact: Hernandez and Gronk are the same age as Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the Colts’ two rookie tight ends. And they’re, you know, rookies.
With that youth and unique skill at the position, the Patriots have now secured the pieces to help Brady’s career last as long as possible by relieving the pressure on him as he fades beyond the wrong side of 35. By the time Hernandez’s contract expires, Gronk’s deal will be one year away from maxing out too, and Brady — who turned 35 earlier this month — will be 40 by then, assuming he’s still hanging on to those twilight years after his current contract expires at the end of the 2014 season.
So for as long as he’s around, Brady will have steady, reliable options, and two of the best players at their position on his team, which will ideally maximize his production relative to his age. It’ll also keep Gronk and Hernandez as outlets for one of the league’s best arms, even if Brady slows a bit.
Hernandez had 905 receiving yards last year at a 65 per game pace, and he added seven touchdowns along with 45 rushing yards. That all added up to a nice and tidy 135 fantasy points, which was behind only Gronk and Jimmy Graham at his position. I think it’s almost easy to overlook those numbers — and particularly the rushing yards — because of the sheer absurdity of Gronkowski’s record-breaking production, and therefore his ability to overshadow his teammate who was the “secondary” option at tight end for the Patriots, a title that’s very deserving of those pompous air quotes.
But consider that even with those air quotes, and even with Wes Welker leading the league in receptions and drawing plenty of looks up the middle, Hernandez still had more fantasy points than all but two players at his position.
Yeah, I’d say you probably want to hang onto this Hernandez kid in keeper and dynasty leagues. He might have a bit of a future.