The New England Patriots' fleet of tight ends was already as versatile as chili: you could serve it by itself, with rice, on a hot dog or as a nacho dip. Adding free-agent tight end Visanthe Shiancoe may have added a bit of versatility to the dish, but it definitely spiced up the pot.
The team enters training camp trying to fill a third roster spot at tight end, but the status of their current tight ends are questionable entering the 2012 season: Jake Ballard underwent reconstructive surgery on a torn ACL, while Daniel Fells begins training camp on the active PUP list.
The signing is perhaps indication that neither will be ready to start the season, and although we were well aware of that fact regarding Ballard, Fells' uncertainty is a new issue.
Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe takes a look at the details of the contract and reveals what the Patriots might have been thinking with the offer.
According to a league source with access to the contract, Shiancoe's deal is for $1.2 million in base salary, of which $400,000 is guaranteed. There is another $800,000 available in play-time bonuses, starting with 45 percent of the snaps. ...Shiancoe's contract is an indication that Daniel Fells, who is on active PUP with what is believed to be a shoulder injury, may not be ready to go when the season starts. Or it at least gives the Patriots some security in case Fells needs more time.
The $800,000 in bonuses reveals the true nature of Shiancoe's value to the team: as a replacement in the event of an injury to one of the full-time tight ends, Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski.
Hernandez has missed time each of the past two seasons, while Gronkowsi is on pace in his from ankle surgery. It's not likely Shiancoe will see the field 45 percent of the time with both Hernandez and Gronkowski in the fold, but if either misses time to injury, that's essentially a $400,000 insurance policy the Patriots just took out with only a potential for $800,000 in additional fees.
The Patriots had a hard time replacing each when they were out with injuries at different points in the season, so keeping Shiancoe around gives them another option in the event of either circumstance presenting itself once again.
The addition of Shiancoe in and of itself is a consequence of circumstance as well. The Patriots may not be in the market for another tight end if they hadn't had their pocket picked of both tight ends Lee Smith and Will Yeatman on the way to the practice squad last season.
Beyond the insurance policy aspect, the Patriots add yet another level of versatility to their offense. Many love to joke about the Patriots' fascination with tight ends, but with Hernandez, Gronkowski and Shiancoe on the field, they can legitimately run the no-huddle offense out of three-tight end sets and still be a threat to throw the ball on every down.
They love to run the no-huddle, and they love their tight ends, so it seems like a logical conclusion that they'll run the no-huddle with multiple tight ends, especially now that they have so much versatility in those sets. They can create mismatches in the passing game and keep the threat of the run alive.
Shiancoe offers a good deal as a blocking tight end, but he has made his mark as a pass-catcher as well, reeling in 181 receptions for 2,101 yards and 23 touchdowns over the past four seasons. He ranked second among all tight ends in receiving touchdowns in 2009 (11) and sixth among tight ends in receiving touchdowns over the past four years.
For purposes of insurance, and with the benefit of added versatility in the offense, signing Shiancoe was a move that had to be made.