On Sunday the New England Patriots lost star tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury. While the extent of the injury is still unknown, Hernandez will be out for at least a few weeks. The Patriots are looking to replace the injured tight end with former Pro Bowler Kellen Winslow Jr. But the Patriots are taking a chance with Winslow who is not the same player who was a few years ago.
The Patriots run a duel tight end system previously unseen in the NFL. The system requires two dependable tight ends that are featured heavily in the team’s passing game. The purpose of signing Winslow Tuesday is to insert him into the new system in time for the team’s week three contest Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
With the Patriots current system and their intention seemingly to phase out wide receiver Wes Welker, the team needs two productive tight ends. They lack that with Hernandez’s absence. Behind starting tight end Rob Gronkowski are Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells. Hoomanawanui was a fifth round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and was released three days before he was signed by the Patriots. Fells has been a backup tight end during his six-year NFL career.
Winslow had a sluggish beginning to his NFL career when he suffered a broken right fibula ending his 2004 rookie season. The following offseason Winslow was in a motorcycle accident which ended his sophomore season before it even began. It looked as though the Cleveland Browns first round draft pick was an immediate bust. But the tight end’s luck soon changed.
In 2006 Winslow completed his first full NFL season being one of the Browns top receivers. He continued his rise in 2007 when an injury to Antonio Gates paved the way for Winslow to be selected to his first Pro Bowl. Over the next four seasons Winslow was a key target for the Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2011 season.
The Seahawks acquired Winslow from the Buccaneers for a pair of draft picks. After failing to impress new Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, Winslow had a chance to impress Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll but failed to do so. The former Pro Bowler only caught three passes for 34 yards during preseason showing only a sliver of the player he once was. Just before the season the Seahawks waived Winslow due to the lack of performance and reportedly because he was unwilling to take a pay cut.
One question with Winslow has always been his durability after several knee operations. It seems that Winslow is not the player he was just two years ago in Tampa. Following Winslow’s release it was likely that a team needing a tight end would take a chance on Winslow but the Patriots are taking a risk by signing the veteran.