One of the problems this season for the New England Patriots was having no reliable tight end options after all the arrests and injuries. With that need in mind, it won’t be surprising to see them trying to sign Dennis Pitta or Jermichael Finley in free agency, or go for a high pick in the draft, with Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas and Eric Ebron all possible options.
One could argue that the Patriots had the best tight end in football going into this season in Rob Grnokowski, especially when it comes to his endzone prowess. Having Aaron Hernandez as a second otpion in their two-tight end set wasn’t bad either. But Gronkowski can’t stay healthy for the last two years and Hernandez turned out to be something far worse.
So Tom Brady had himself a relatively weak season, although the Patriots finished 12-4. Part of the problem was not having a receiver or tight end he could trust. Gronkowski was healthy enough to play in 7 games, catching 39 passes for 592 yards and 4 touchdowns. The problem is the Pats can’t trust him to be healthy all the time. The most productive tight end after Gronk? Michael Hoomanawanui with 12 receptions for 136 yards. They need someone better.
Free agency offers Dennis Pitta and Jermichael Finley, but Pitta missed most of last season and is going to be more expensive than what the Pats usually pay, while Jermichael Finley is just now returning from what many thought was a career ending injury, so there are question marks about his chances of ever playing in the NFL again.
There are other options, cheaper ones: Brandon Pettigrew who has done reasonably well for the Lions over the last five seasons but probably has been disappointing considering he was a first round pick, and he’s not the impact player the Patriots need. Garrett Graham who played for the Texans last season is also hitting the market, but he’s pretty much in the Pettigrew mold, and won’t serve as anything more than insurance for Gronkowski.
How about the draft? Jace Amaro seems to be a tight end that the Pats would love to sign, but the Texas Tech product who caught 106 passes for 1352 yards and 7 touchdowns is likely to come off the board before the 30th pick. Troy Niklas coming out of Notre Dame (32 receptions, 498 yards, 5 touchdowns) might be a more realistic option for them at that stage, and there’s also Eric Ebron from North Carolina (62 receptions, 973 yards, 3 touchdowns), who is probably more desired by teams for his blocking ability.
In any case, the Patriots need better than what they have right now, so expect at least one signing from them when it comes to the position – probably Pettigrew or Graham for a small deal and going after Ebron in the draft.