There’s an old scouting report typwritten in all capital letters that explains what New England is doing, why tight end Mike Gesicki might not be done and also why Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was still right.
The report was written by Bill Belichick before he was the Belichick we know. It involves the larger alchemy involved in free-agent decisions, more than just grabbing the biggest talent out there. As Cleveland Browns coach in 1991, Belichick handed scouts a few pages on what they should look for at each position to fit his system.
This is standard procedure of any regime. Nick Saban brought this report with him to the Miami Dolphins in 2005, breaking positions down by size and speed parameters for scouts. Adam Gase spent two hours with scouts in 2016 explaining what he wanted in a guard.
The first priority of a tight end, Belichick typed, was he, “has to be a catcher. Keith Jackson, Ozzie Newsome type. Don’t need the offensive line guy in a TE jersey. Take what we can get from him on the blocking. Just gets in the way and ties up, we can work around the blocking. Catch, run, block.”
Let the second or third tight end be the blocker, Belichick typed, and the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout, once posted on social media. Belichick then underlined this regarding how to pick tight ends: “Don’t let the lack of blocking ability eliminate a good player.”
There, in a few words, is Gesicki’s game. It’s why the Patriots signed him for the show-me contract of one year for $4.5 million and another $4.5 million in incentives. It’s also why Gesicki didn’t fit with McDaniel’s system, which is the Brendan Shanahan system, which is the Mike Shanahan system, which demands in-line blocking from a tight end.
Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree related a few games into last season he received a 3 a.m. text from George Kittle, the San Francisco tight end Embree and McDaniel previously coached. Kittle sent a video of laying out a Los Angeles Rams defensive back with a bone-crunching block.
“That’s what we want.,’’ Embree said. “That mentality here. It’s not about how many passes did I catch.”
In other sports, systems don’t much matter. Baseball and basketball can make talent work in any system. Football decides careers on team. Take the career of two great Dolphins middle linebackers.
Zach Thomas enters the Hall of Fame this summer on full merit. He was an undersized and overly athletic middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive system, where blockers had to, “get around [defensive tackle] Tim Bowen’s big rear end to get to me,’’ as he said.
Thomas was a star from the start, same as John Offerdahl in a previous Dolphins generation. Offerdahl was the 1986 AFC defensive rookie of the year and a Pro Bowl player his first five years. Three years later, he was out of football.
Why? Offerdahl played in a 3-4 system. His 230-pound frame took on 300-pound guards every play. There was a cost to doing that as his body wore down. He suffered a series of injuries that prematurely ended his career.
That’s why they challenge of NFL free agency isn’t simply to find good players. Anyone can play fantasy football and pick the best players at positions. The challenge is to find the best players for your system.
New Dolphins backup quarterback Mike White, for instance, had impactful cameos with the New York Jets in the Shanahan system. His seven NFL starts isn’t much. But McDaniel must have seen how White processed decisions in that similar system and would fit with the Dolphins.
Gesicki didn’t wow Belichick the previous five years. He had 14 catches for 127 yards against New England in nine games since 2018. But Belichick is famous for taking out opponent’s top options. Maybe he set defenses against Gesicki.
“Gesicki’s a big receiver,’’ Bill Belichick said back in 2020. “I mean, he’s not really a conventional tight end, but he’s a tough matchup in the passing game.”
The unanswered question is just how good Gesicki is as a receiver. He had back-to-back 700-yard receiving seasons in 2020 and 2021. Ryan Fitzpatrick was quarterback much of that time and liked to throw jump balls for the 6-foot-6 Gesicki and 6-5 DeVante Parker to catch.
Now, Gesicki gets teamed again with Parker in New England. Are they re-creating the 2020 Dolphins? Don’t scoff too loud. That offense averaged 25.3 points a game. The 2022 Dolphins, talent rich as they were, averaged 23.4 points.
Gesicki was frustrated this past season. Now he goes to a system that covets his receiving talent. Just how talented is he on the right team? We’ll sit back and see.