Four days later, it’s easy to forget the first move by the New England Patriots during NFL free agency was actually a trade.

On Monday, the Patriots agreed to deal tight end Jonnu Smith to Atlanta for a seventh-round pick, a transaction that officially processed the moment free agency opened Wednesday afternoon. Smith disappointed over his two years in New England, failing to crack 300 receiving yards in either season after he signed a 4-year, $50 million contract.

Upon signing Miami’s Mike Gesicki on Friday morning, it appeared the Patriots had found Smith’s replacement at tight end. Or did they?

Gesicki, at 6-foot-6 and 247 pounds, is a player some have instead described as a “big receiver” – Bill Belichick included. The sixth-year veteran is a spectacular athlete, armed with 4.5 speed, incredible leaping ability and a massive catch radius. Few tight ends possess better receiving talent than Gesicki, who has 18 career touchdowns.

The 27-year-old is also slow to make cuts, turn in his routes, and is a flat-out terrible blocker.

Gesicki graded out as the NFL’s seventh-worst run-blocking tight end at Pro Football Focus each of the past two seasons. To protect themselves, the Dolphins asked him to run-block on fewer than 24% of his snaps, per PFF. More often than not, Gesicki didn’t even align in the box.


Every year since his 2018 rookie campaign, Gesicki has played more than half his snaps from the slot and averaged more than 100 snaps per season out wide. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect he will not function as a modern tight end in New England, as Smith did, splitting his snaps fairly evenly between an in-line position and out wide. The Patriots know Gesicki’s strengths and weaknesses, having faced him nine times during his years in Miami.

“He’s a hard guy to cover. Long. He’s a good, crafty route runner. He’s slick, but he can get down the field. Very good hands, makes some acrobatic catches. Has enough quickness to separate,” Belichick said last January.

Less clear than Gesicki’s role with the Patriots – he’s a part-time slot receiver and red-zone weapon – is his fit within the offense as a whole.

Starting tight end Hunter Henry is an average run-blocker, so playing Henry and Gesicki together in two-tight end packages would put the Patriots at a disadvantage versus heavier defensive personnel on critical running downs. The flip side is those heavier base defenses (with only four defensive backs) should offer the Patriots at least one receiving mismatch through Henry, Gesicki, JuJu Smith-Schuster or DeVante Parker. But facing heavier defensive personnel is no guarantee.

Partly because of Gesicki’s struggles run-blocking, the Patriots comfortably countered Miami’s two-tight end personnel with nickel packages (featuring five defensive backs) and dime packages (six) for years. Gesicki’s on-field presence in Miami was a 76% tell the Dolphins were about to pass. Why worry about the run?

The staff could swap Henry out for Gesicki on passing downs. Or they could treat him as a full-time slot receiver. The issue there is Gesicki would bump the Patriots’ prized free-agent addition to date, former Chiefs and Steelers wideout in Smith-Schuster. Like Gesicki, Smith-Schuster operates best against zone coverage and can play outside, but his home is in the slot. Unlike Gesicki, he’s a monster after the catch, a main reason the Patriots signed him over long-time No. 1 option Jakobi Meyers.


So do the Patriots move their best pure receiver to accommodate one of their most limited players? Do they limit Gesicki’s snaps? Or do they force Gesicki, whose receiving talent is the reason he could earn up to $9 million this season, to play more on the perimeter?

At the very least, signing Gesicki has bolstered the Patriots’ pass-catching talent, an absolute must after last year’s offensive disaster. The Patriots’ red-zone offense should soar from its No. 32 ranking (dead last) a year ago.

Gesicki’s place in the offense is a little cloudy. He does not fit into the two-tight end mold of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that launched new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s career in the early 2010s, or even the Hunter Henry-Jonnu Smith pairing most envisioned when they signed two years ago. He is both a unique player and one who is introducing significant overlap with his skill set.

But O’Brien recruited him in high school, when Gesicki was a four-star prospect from New Jersey and O’Brien was the head coach at Penn State. Gesicki thrived in a spread offense at Penn State and enjoyed his best seasons in Miami under ex-Patriots assistant Brian Flores. There is a path for Gesicki to succeed in New England, even if it’s cluttered with teammates boasting similar skill sets.

It’s now O’Brien’s job to light the way.

OTHER MOVES: The Patriots intend to release veteran cornerback Jalen Mills, according to reports, which comes as a surprise considering he started all 26 games he appeared in the past two seasons.


Cutting Mills will create roughly $5 million in cap space for the Patriots. Mills recorded 31 tackles, five pass deflections and two interceptions last season, when he also missed seven games because of injury. He’s been the Patriots’ No. 2 cornerback the past two years, first working opposite J.C. Jackson and then Jonathan Jones. The Patriots re-signed Jones to a two-year, $19 million contract earlier this week.

Mills joined the Patriots as a free agent in 2021. He signed a four-year, $24 million contract and was expected to serve in a do-it-all safety role. While Stephon Gilmore rehabbed from a quad injury in training camp, Mills replaced him at corner and never moved back to safety, where he thrived over his last season with the Eagles in 2020.

n The Patriots reached terms with backup defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, per the NFL Network.

Ekuale is the 10th Patriots player to re-sign this offseason, and the seventh defender. Last season, he had two sacks, three QB hits and 14 tackles. After signing with the Patriots in 2021, Ekuale played 36% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2022, primarily as an interior pass rusher. The 29-year-old had previous stints in Jacksonville and Cleveland.

n Free-agent long snapper Joe Cardona is returning to the Patriots on a new four-year contract worth $6.3 million, a person with knowledge of the negotiation said. The terms make Cardona the NFL’s highest-paid long snapper.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story