By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — You know, the whole plan to just not replace Rob Gronkowski has not worked out very well.

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Bill Belichick actually tried to jump-start the post-Gronk era by negotiating a trade involving the tight end prior to the 2018 season. But as we know, Gronkowski threatened retirement and killed the deal. He ended up making the play that (essentially) sealed the victory in the Super Bowl that season, two weeks after making a pair of massive catches on third downs late in the AFC Championship Game.

Long story short: Gronkowski proved he was still pretty important to the Patriots’ offense in 2018. Since then, though, the Patriots haven’t really tried to replace him. And it really bottomed out in 2020, when the Patriots’ tight end trio accounted for 254 combined receiving yards.

While an optimist may hope for a significant step forward for 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene next season, the Patriots may be able to find a veteran player or two who may end up on the move.

That thought came to mind when perusing the list of “players who need a change of scenery” on This exercise was undertaken by reporters, not executives, so it’s not necessarily a certainty that any of the 32 players listed end up on new teams next season.

Nevertheless, the sheer number of tight ends stands out, with seven reporters listing tight ends as potential candidates to move on from their current teams.

(If you were curious, Mike Reiss listed kicker Justin Rohrwasser as the Patriots’ choice. Considering the fifth-round pick failed to really make the 53-man roster last season, that wouldn’t be altogether surprising.)

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According to ESPN’s reporters, here are some tight ends who could benefit from finding a new team this offseason:

Evan Engram (NY Giants)
Zach Ertz (Philadelphia)
Jesse James (Detroit)
Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota)
Ian Thomas (Carolina)
Jared Cook (New Orleans)
Gerald Everett (LA Rams)

Some of those names — like Ertz and Rudolph — have been discussed at length recently, while others might be a bit more under the radar.

While all seven players have different contracts and overall situations, it is notable that all seven of the suggested players are employed by NFC teams. The lack of conference competition could make potential trade negotiations easier to complete.

A trade might not be necessary to acquire some players, as ESPN’s Mike Triplett noted that Jared Cook could end up being a salary cap casualty in New Orleans. Rudolph is a candidate for release, too.

Of course, the Patriots have a number of things to figure out before they go about acquiring any veteran tight ends. Namely, figuring out who will be their quarterback ought to be priorities one, two and three.

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Yet in the overall scope of trying to turn a 7-win team into a 10- or 11-win team, that group is worth remembering in the upcoming months.