Patriots to Make ‘Hard Push’ at Top TE in Free Agency, Says Analyst

Austin Hooper, Falcons

Getty Austin Hooper could sign with the Patriots in the offseason.

The New England Patriots are expected to be aggressive at upgrading the tight end position this offseason.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss predicted the Patriots will either target a free agent tight end or devote a draft pick towards one in the 2020 NFL Draft. Reiss also mentions two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry as two specific targets the Patriots could be interested in.

The Patriots will be aggressive at tight end.

Whether it’s making a run at one of the top free agents (such as Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper) or devoting notable resources in the draft, the Patriots will make a hard push at the position similar to in 2010, when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and transformed their offense. While some analysts say this year’s draft isn’t strong at tight end, seeing the success of George Kittle (49ers, fifth round) and Travis Kelce (Chiefs, third round) serves up a reminder that there are always hidden gems to be found.

Henry Has Previously Been Linked To Patriots

This isn’t the first time the Patriots have been linked to Henry. In fact, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert cited New England as a team of interest just several weeks prior for the young tight end.

Henry returned to full strength after a torn ACL cost him the 2018 season, catching 55 passes for 652 yards — both career-highs. The dynamic role of tight ends in today’s offenses suggests he will be highly sought-after if he reaches the market. The Patriots, in particular, seem like an obvious team of interest.

As far as Hooper is concerned, he’s emerged as one of the top tight ends in the game. At just 25 years of age, he’s notched back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and is coming off his best year. The Atlanta Falcons tight end posted 75 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 — all career highs.

Patriots Need To Find a Tight End

It’s unclear at this point in time who exactly the Patriots prefer, but it’s clear they need the position filled. The tight end position was so underwhelming for New England last season that they were starting 39-year-old Benjamin Watson at the position at the end of the season. Yes, the same Watson who was retired in the offseason and who was released by the Patriots in the middle of the 2019 season.

Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse will presumably return, but both underwhelmed at the position early on in the season while trying to fill the retired Rob Gronkowski’s void. Izzo finished the season with just six receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown, while LaCosse posted just 13 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.

While all of the attention is being focused on Tom Brady‘s impending free agency and where he’ll end up, it’s clear that New England’s second-biggest concern is at tight end.

In fact, signing an established tight end such as Hooper or Henry would likely entice Brady to return to the Patriots for 2020. The Boston Herald reported that Brady’s more concerned with New England adding weapons rather than paying him $30 million per season.

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