The New England Patriots free agency priority this off-season is undoubtedly what happens with Tom Brady and the quarterback position.
But by far the biggest improvement they can make on the 2019 season is at the tight end position.
The Patriots have never really recovered from future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski’s retirement after their Super Bowl 53 win over the LA Rams.
With three tight ends on their roster last season – Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse – neither really stepped up to the plate and put in a consistent performance.
After the Patriots’ early exit from the playoffs last season, Ben Watson as good as retired so it would be surprising if he were to return to the team.
While the Pats may pick up a tight end in the draft, the free agency options are the easiest path to immediate improvement for the upcoming season.
Here’s who should be in their sights this off-season…
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons (UFA)
Austin Hooper is the top tight end heading into the free agent market this year and will almost certainly be on the New England Patriots’ radar when free agency starts next week.
There will definitely be tough competition from other franchises which could make things difficult for the Pats, given their situation with Tom Brady and their probably limited cap space.
However, if there’s one priority they need to address it’s tight end and Austin Hooper could prove more than valuable by drastically improving their roster.
In 2019, Hooper caught 75 passes from 97 targets for 787 yards and six touchdowns and is the best tight end going into free agency.
The 25-year-old also has the ability to serve as an effective in-line blocker and, as a result, the New England Patriots should be among the top suitors for Hooper come March 18.
Tyler Eifert – Cincinnati Bengals (UFA)
In 2019, Tyler Eifert completed his first 16-game season of his career in a bid to put an end to his “injury-prone” label.
The 6’6″ tight end caught 43 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns which, while not groundbreaking, saw him record a sufficient 10.1 yards per reception.
Eifert should make a decent second-tier target for the New England Patriots as a solid pass-catcher and decent pass blocker, ranked fourth among tight ends last season.
Despite a high number of injuries, the former first-round draft pick who is heading into his eighth year has been a reliable target for the Bengals and it looks like he may have finally turned a corner.
In the right environment, Eifert could be poised to have a breakout season.
Eric Ebron – Indianapolis Colts (UFA)
Eric Ebron makes an attractive tight end prospect both with his skill set and his price tag this off-season.
While not the most prolific tight end in the league, Ebron has proved to be a consistent target on the Colts’ offense.
During his two season in Indianapolis, Ebron caught 16 touchdown passes – 14 more than the entire tight end cohort on the Patriots.
With their cap space under extreme pressure, Ebron could prove a cost-efficient option to bolster their tight end corp when the free agency starts on March 18 as he only took home $6.5 million last season.
While he was hampered by injuries last season, being placed on injured reserve from November, the 26-year-old has some potential to become a top prospect in the league and could prove a wise choice for the New England Patriots free agency acquisitions.
Marcedes Lewis – Green Bay Packers (UFA)
The New England Patriots have often proved a fertile landing spot for apparently over-the-hill players and Marcedes Lewis would certainly tick that box.
At 35, Lewis won’t be a top prospect for the Patriots free agency but could prove to be a good-value option at tight end with some good experience to offer.
His stats last season weren’t terrible when you consider he was far down on the Packers’ receiving options.
The former first-round draft pick recorded an average 10.4 yards per reception and 156 yards over 15 receptions.
What’s more, Lewis has proved to be an relatively effective player when it comes to blocking the run game – he was ranked 12th out of tight ends last year and was far above any of the Patriots’ tight ends.
Considering Watson, Izzo and Lacosse all struggled with this in 2019, Lewis could prove to be an improvement in more ways than one should he join the Patriots next season.
New England Patriots Free Agency
Overall, Austin Hooper would be the best option for the New England Patriots to improve their roster at the tight end position.
But if, and it is a big if at the moment, if they were to re-sign Tom Brady or any of their other major free agents such as Devin McCourty or Kyle Van Noy it could prove difficult.
With that in mind, there are definitely other options available to add talent and experience to Izzo and Lacosse’s limited skill set in the Patriots free agency.
To keep up to date with all the latest NFL news, follow our Facebook page here.