On Tuesday the New England Patriots agreed to terms with veteran NFL tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. A third-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft, Shiancoe spent four years with the New York Giants and five years with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Patriots. The signing of Shiancoe shows an offensive plan that was unclear until the signing.
The Patriots have made several changes to their offense this offseason. They made several new signings at wide receiver including Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney. This is in addition to the re-signing of Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch and placing the franchise tag on four-time all-pro receiver Wes Welker. These signings were to improve a severe lack of depth at the position last season.
Because of the lack of depth at wide receiver in 2011 for the Patriots, they were forced to use tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as primary receivers in an offensive game plan unforeseen in the NFL. It was assumed by many that last season’s use of the tight ends wasn’t necessarily by choice but more by necessity. With the addition of several experienced receivers it seemed that the Patriots may have been heading in a more traditional direction where tight ends are not as prolific in the passing game.
As for the tight end position itself, there was no specific need for another tight end if the Patriots were planning on using the position in a traditional way. Other than stars Gronkowski and Hernandez, the Patriots signed Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, and drafted Tyler Urban. While Ballard is questionable coming off an injury which led to his release from the Giants, Fells seemed to be the natural fit as the number three tight end in a new receiver based passing game under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
However, with the experience and quality of Shiancoe, it looks as though the Patriots will indeed continue to use the tight ends in a similar way they did in 2011. It’s still unclear what will be seen from the position in 2012 and after what was seen last season, it would be impossible to predict. Maybe a formation which includes three or even four tight ends? Either way the team has found a system of attacking which they feel works and even though they’ve added depth to their weakest offensive position, they will continue to go to the big guys at the end of the line.