New England Patriots

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 25: Tight End Jared Cook of the Oakland Raiders catches a touchdown in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 25: Tight End Jared Cook of the Oakland Raiders catches a touchdown in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

If you’re wondering whether the Patriots had any idea that Rob Gronkowski would retire, look no further than their apparently strong pursuit of free-agent tight end Jared Cook.

Easily the best available tight end on the open market, Cook reportedly drew interest from the Patriots early in free agency. Now, he’s reportedly negotiating exclusively with the New Orleans Saints and could finalize a deal this week. But according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, that comes after the Patriots made a “hard run” at signing him.

That may indicate to you that Gronk took the Pats by surprise. But their early interest in Cook suggests that they were at least covering the proverbial bases.

Cook put together a career-best season as a pass-catcher in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders, hauling in 68 catches for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns. He significantly outperformed Gronk’s production in his final year. Cook isn’t nearly the blocker Gronk was. But if the reports are to be believed, the Patriots surely thought he could still produce in the passing game.

With Gronkowski out of the picture, the story now turns to how the Patriots will replace him on the depth chart. And the word “replace” should be used loosely and delicately, here. Because they aren’t going to find a tight end with Gronk’s singular combination of size, strength, speed, hands, blocking, football IQ, and intangibles.

But with only four tight ends on the current roster – bargain-bin free agent Matt LaCosse may be the most promising of all of them – they’re certainly going to need to add bodies at the position before camp. That’s where the 2019 NFL draft and its purportedly deep tight end class could come in.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.