Is He The Missing Ingredient?

Could he be the solution to what the Patriots' offense has been missing? That's what Bill Belchick hopes recent acquisition Alge Crumpler represents.

In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the NFL owners meetings, in which Patriots' owner Robert Kraft lauded the league's push to change the overtime rule in the postseason, and Tom Brady's status at voluntary offseason workouts, a relatively significant transaction slipped through the cracks.

The Patriots announced the signing of tight end Alge Crumpler this week, another move aimed toward fixing the hole in their passing game created by the lack of a versatile, No. 1 tight end.

Through the years, the Patriots have made numerous attempts to develop a sturdy, pass-catching, pass-protecting, run-blocking tight end who could also serve as a severe threat in the red zone. In back-to-back years, they used first-round picks to draft Daniel Graham and Ben Watson.

Graham has spent the last three years in Denver while Watson is now a member of the Cleveland Browns, so, for all intents and purposes, consider those wasted picks. Both players had their moments, but when the time came to re-up, the Patriots weren't exactly breaking the bank to keep them in town.

Is Crumpler the answer? The Crumpler of 2004 to 2006 would be a significant addition. During that three-year stretch in Atlanta, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound tight end caught 163 passes -- an average of 54.3 receptions per year -- with 19 touchdowns and was regarded as one of the game's best tight ends, right up there with Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. In 2005, he set career highs with 65 catches for 877 yards.

Since '06, Crumpler has steadily declined while his weight has gone up. Prior to the 2009 season -- his second in Tennessee -- Crumpler arrived in camp looking more like a tackle than a tight end. Not surprisingly, he spent most of his two-year tenure with the Titans as a blocker, not a receiver, and caught just 51 passes with only two touchdowns between '08 and '09.

The Patriots hope Tennessee's loss is their gain (no pun intended). Crumpler's chances of producing depend on his conditioning and how quickly he picks up the offense. The Patriots have always been open to featuring the tight end in the passing game, save for the last three seasons when they morphed into more of a "bombs away" style offense.

The lack of success following their loss in Super Bowl XLII (they missed the playoffs in '08 and got wiped out by Baltimore in the wild-card round last year) might lead to a return to normalcy, or at least what Patriots' fans have grown to consider normalcy prior to the arrival of Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

The Patriots need more plays in their playbook than deep bombs to Moss and slant passes to Welker. Crumpler could be the answer, though a lot depends on which Crumpler shows up to camp this summer.

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