It was reported Friday that former Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark visited the New England Patriots. The pro bowler was one of the key receivers for Peyton Manning since he was drafted by the Colts in 2003.
The Patriots currently have four tight ends under contract. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are returning as key parts of the offense, free agent Daniel Fells was signed as a free agent, and undrafted free agent Brad Herman was signed out of Iowa. If the Patriots are seriously considering Clark, where does he fit?
While Herman could be on the Patriots practice squad in 2012 that still leaves three tight ends which is the number the team is likely to carry. Clark has been available as a free agent all offseason which means that the Patriots chose to sign Fells over Clark. Now the Patriots are coming back to a player they have already passed over.
While it could be argued that the Patriots would use four tight ends due to how much they use that position in the passing game, they are unlikely to use the tight end the same way in 2012. In 2011 the Patriots had problems at the wide receiver position which caused the tight ends to be used more. With the additions at receiver that the Patriots have made, there is no need for the tight ends to be a big part of the passing game.
This may be nothing more than just a visit but it raises the question of what’s the plan. The wide receivers will be much more of the focus now that the team has added much needed help to that position. Clark is still a very productive tight end who could help several teams and with Hernandez and Gronkowski as the key tight ends on the team and with Fells having already been deemed by the Patriots a better fit than Clark, there would be no room for him.
The other possibility is that the tight ends will be just as much used as last season. If that’s the case, the Patriots are way over-loaded on wide receivers. It was assumed that the signing of Brandon Lloyd and other free agents was too add depth to the position so it could be of much more use. But if the tight ends are still going to be such a big part of the offense, there is no need for the rapid signings of receivers that dominated the Patriots offseason.
As this was only a visit, it is unknown has seriously the Patriots are looking at Clark. With Clark’s skill set and production it’s unlikely he’d be willing to join a team that wouldn’t use him. If the team is planning on offering him a contract, it makes the signings of multiple accomplished receivers seem unnecessary. It remains to be seen the true reason for the inquiry into Clark but it’s just another thing to keep an eye on as the Patriots prepare for the 2012 season.