Lions trade Michael Roberts, continue revamp of tight end position
Allen Park — The overhaul of the Detroit Lions' tight end room is complete. According to a league source, the team is trading Michael Roberts to the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2020.
The conditions were not readily made available, but often require a player to make a team's initial 53-man roster.
"Roster movement is something that’s pretty common at this time of year," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We’re always going to try to do what’s in the best interest of the team, both the short-term and the long-term, to try to make us as competitive as possible. Obviously, with the tight end position, kind of in conversation here, we have a good competition in the room right now. We had an opportunity to move on from Mike and hopefully, potentially, get something in the future for it. So, it was a good opportunity for us as a team to do that and to build our team long-term."
Roberts was the remaining holdover from last year's group, which fell well short of expectations. The team already allowed Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo to depart via free agency.
Given the resources the Lions put into revamping the position this offseason, Roberts' path to sticking on the roster had been cloudy. The team invested a first-round pick in T.J. Hockenson, snagged Georgia's Isaac Nauta in the later rounds of the draft and signed Jesse James and Logan Thomas in free agency.
Given the investment in Hockenson and James, who signed a four-year deal with the Lions, Thomas was lining up to be Roberts' primary competition for a roster spot. The newcomer's early success picking up the offense likely made the decision easier for Detroit.
"(He's a) really smart guy," Patricia said. "I think his background as a quarterback helps him from an overall concept understanding of different positions. A guy that can do a lot of things out there on the field. Certainly, spring evaluations are always one thing, and we’ll see what it looks like when we get the pads on. As far as a guy that comes in every single day, does what he’s asked to do, works really hard, has learned the playbook very quickly from an information standpoint. His execution has been really good, from that aspect of it, so far through the spring."
Roberts, a fourth-round selection by the Lions in 2017, struggled to establish a consistent role during his two-plus years with the team. After catching 16 touchdown passes his senior year at Toledo, the Lions focused on building up his blocking during his rookie season. He caught just four passes for 46 yards in 15 games that year and was suspended for the season finale after missing a team meeting.
He shined through the early stages of the offseason program a year ago and appeared primed for a breakout, but his momentum was derailed by a training camp injury. He flashed some potential during the regular season, including his first three touchdown receptions, but was ultimately limited to eight games after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
The deal with the Patriots is the latest in a series of trades general manager Bob Quinn has made with his former employer. In 2016, he sent a conditional draft pick to the Patriots for linebacker Jon Bostic. A few months later, Quinn shipped a linebacker back, trading Kyle Van Noy in a pick swap.
Additionally, Quinn traded former special teams standout Johnson Bademosi to the Patriots for draft consideration. The teams also have made worked out a couple draft-day deals, one trade up and one trade down for the Lions, resulting in team's selections of Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson.
Roberts enters a great situation to contribute in New England, following the retirement of All-Pro Rob Gronkowski this offseason. Additionally, veteran Ben Watson, who re-joined New England this offseason, is suspended the first four games of the year. The team's other four tight ends have combined for 63 career catches.
Patricia noted the Lions will keep the open roster spot and assess the team's needs heading into training camp.
"From just a general philosophy standpoint, it’s good to have the flexibility in that position because you know there’s going to be movement coming up in the next couple weeks," he said. "We’ll take the next couple weeks to look at it and see if there’s somebody out there that we do want to add."