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Tuesday Patriots Notebook 3/5: News and Notes

Patriots need to make sure they get their situation at tight end right this offseason.

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
March 5, 2024 at 11:14 am ET

Tuesday Patriots Notebook 3/5: News and Notes(PHOTO: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

Some Patriots news and notes for this morning.

If Henry Goes, Patriots Need to Be Careful

Heading into the 2024 season, the Patriots currently find themselves without a starting tight end on their roster, making this an obvious need ahead of both free agency and the draft.

How they’re going to handle it is going to be a mystery.  Negotiations with Hunter Henry are apparently not off to a great start, with MassLive reporting that the two sides are “far apart” on an extension.

The tough part for Henry is going to be his age.  At 29 years old, this is potentially his last shot to cash in, which may complicate his chances of coming back in 2024.  It’s likely going to see he and his agent looking to maximize his value and if they’re seeking top dollar, it’s probably not going to come in New England.

As good of a player as Henry is, and while he didn’t exactly have the best situation here the last two seasons to put up numbers, he’s just not among the upper echelon of tight ends in the league.

He’s not as solid of a blocker as some of the options available, nor is he as explosive and dynamic as some of his peers.  At the same time, one area he’s been big in the last few seasons is on third down, with Henry finishing among the top pass catchers in that category for New England in each of the last three seasons.

That’s an area that absolutely crushed them last year, as the departure of Jakobi Meyers, who led the team in third-down receptions in each of his final two seasons, was pivotal.  In his final year in 2022, Meyers led the team on third down with 22 receptions for 330 yards and two touchdowns.  Out of those receptions he moved the chains 18 times, triple the number of the next closest player in Henry who caught 12 receptions but had just 6 receiving first downs.  Overall they converted 75-of-215 (34.9%).

In 2023, it was dismal.  The Patriots overall converted 67-of-222 (30.2%) on third down as Henry finished the season with the most receiving first downs, catching 10 passes for 109 yards with 9 first downs, the best conversion rate by far for any player with 10 or more receptions.  Demario Douglas had the most receptions with 13 but had just seven first downs, while Mike Gesicki was next with 11 receptions but had just six first downs, including a touchdown.

Meyers’s supposed replacement, JuJu Smith-Schuster, was targeted 14 times and caught just seven passes with 4 receiving first downs.

Henry was also their second-most productive receiver in the red zone in 2023, scoring touchdowns on 5 of his 6 targets, three of which came from Bailey Zappe.  Kendrick Bourne led the club in red zone grabs with 6-of-6 with three touchdowns.  All of his targets came from Mac Jones.

As a result, the Patriots need to make sure if they move on from Henry that whoever they bring in is truly an upgrade.  They already learned the hard way when they walked away from Meyers and removed a productive third-down player from their line-up.  They definitely need to try and not make that same mistake with Henry if he’s not brought back for 2024.

Dalton Schultz

(PHOTO: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Schultz, Hooper Among Names to Watch

With free agency approaching, there are some interesting names that will definitely be available at tight end.  Houston’s Dalton Schultz continues to be a name that has come up, with Schultz coming off a productive year with the Texans last season.  He hauled in 59 catches for 635 yards in 2023, including 19 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns on third down.

Another interesting note with Schultz is the fact that he was a productive player in the fourth quarter, hauling in the same totals over that span, but with three touchdowns.  However, his 19 receptions were the highest of his season totals compared to the other quarters, which tells you that down the stretch, he was a guy they clearly looked to.

Totals By Down:

1st: 17 receptions, 193yds
2nd: 21 receptions, 201yds, 2 TDs
3rd: 19 receptions (13 first downs), 218yds, 2 TDs
4th: 2 receptions, 23yds 1 TD

Totals By QTR:

QTR1: 27 receptions, 255yds, 2 TDs
QTR2: 18 receptions, 142yds
QTR3: 13 receptions, 162yds
QTR4: 19 receptions, 218yds, 3 TDs

Source: CBS Sports

The 27-year old was originally taken in the 4th round by the Dallas Cowboys, and joined the Texans last season after playing out the 2022 under the franchise tag for Dallas.

Meanwhile, another name that has come up is Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, who played under Alex Van Pelt in Cleveland.  He’s also 29 years old and is coming off a season where he finished with 25 receptions for 234 yards without a touchdown in 2023.

However, those totals are the lowest since his rookie season in 2016, when he caught just 19 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns.  He also had six receptions for 52-yards (4 first downs) on third down in 2023.

Noah Fant could be another possibility.  He’s just 26 years old, although he’s coming off a season where he caught 32 passes for 414 yards out in Seattle, the lowest reception total since he caught 40 in his rookie year in 2019 while with the Broncos.

He caught 62 passes for 673 yards with three touchdowns in 2020, 68 for 670 yards and 4 TDs in 2021, and 50 receptions for 486 yards and 4 TDs in 2022.

Looking at his stat sheet, it was interesting to see the way the Seahawks used him last season.  18 of Fant’s catches came on first down, with Fant finishing with 18 catches for 255 yards.  He then had 7 catches for 57 yards on second down, and 7 receptions for 102 yards on third down (3 first downs).

Totals By Down:

1st: 18 receptions, 255yds
2nd: 7 receptions, 57yds
3rd: 7 receptions (3 first downs), 102yds
4th: 0 receptions

Still, he’s not as dynamic as Schultz, who remains as probably the most interesting option and is a guy who both makes plays and moves the chains.

Whoever they ultimately target, finding someone who can be a red zone threat and a productive third-down player is going to be key moving forward.

For a team that finished 2023 at the bottom of the league in scoring, there’s nowhere to go but up, and they have to hope whoever they sign can at least help them start taking steps in the right direction.

Door Open For Jackson:

According to Tony Pauline, the Patriots have reportedly left the door open to bring back recently released defensive back J.C. Jackson once the embattled player gets “his off-the-field issues in order.”

Jackson was recently released for what appeared to be financial reasons but was coming off a season where the club had acquired him back from the Rams to bolster their secondary following the loss of rookie defensive back Christian Gonzalez, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

However, an issue ahead of the Germany game where Jackson reportedly missed curfew with Jack Jones saw him get left behind, although unlike Jones, Jackson appeared to be remorseful after the trip and things seemed to be headed in a positive direction.

However, Jackson played the next three contests, taking part in 92%, 100%, and 83% of the snaps against the Giants, Chargers, and Steelers, respectively, before dressing against the Chiefs but not playing a snap.  He then finished the 2023 campaign on the reserved/non-football list as he dealt with what was reported as “mental health” issues.

Hopefully for Jackson’s sake, he’s able to get himself back to a better place and potentially resume his football career.  The situation in Las Vegas with Chandler Jones remains a scary reminder of what players sometimes go through, and one can only hope Jackson’s situation isn’t as severe as what Jones appears to be dealing with.

Odds and Ends:

The return of wide receiver Mike Evans in Tampa Bay likely means that the negotiations with Baker Mayfield are moving in a good direction.  Evans had said recently he only wanted to play with an “elite” quarterback who would give him the best chance to win another Super Bowl.  If that’s the case, despite rumors Mayfield might be a possibility here, it’s probably safe to cross him off the wish list. … The release of Russell Wilson in Denver is interesting, but he’s another player who likely won’t be coming here.  He’s probably still looking to start, but the bigger issue is that his price tag would also potentially make him a tough option.  The Patriots may be flush with cap space but they still have too many other needs to tie up money with a guy who isn’t a long-term answer. … Mark Daniels of MassLive reported on Monday that the Patriots would like to bring back Josh Uche but they’ve yet to offer him a contract.  It’s possible they’re going to let the market set his value before they make a move, which, depending on how other teams view him, could see the former Michigan standout possibly continue his career here. … We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the passing of ESPN reporter Chris Mortenson over the weekend, with Mortenson being one of the biggest names in football reporting back in the day.  Here in New England, he’ll forever be remembered for his reporting in deflategate, but fans may also want to remember it wasn’t Mortenson who went looking for the psi totals – someone fed him that information.  While it was frustrating, it was the league who ultimately misinterpreted the situation and whiffed on multiple chances to do the right thing, while still going on to suspend Tom Brady over it.  They also later buried their own “spot check” results, which tells you all you need to know.  The whole, “remember who the real enemy is” comes into play in this situation, which is why anyone with animosity toward Mortenson may want to try and keep that in mind now that he’s no longer with us.

READ NEXT:
If Henry Goes, Patriots Need to Be Careful

About Ian Logue

Ian Logue is a Seacoast native and owner and senior writer for PatsFans.com, an independent media site covering the New England Patriots and has been running this site in one form or another since 1997.


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