As we get closer to NFL free agency on March 18, we'll go through the Patriots' biggest positions of need and go over some of the options available via trade and free agency. We'll also lay out some of the landscape across the NFL that may or may not complicate the situation for the Patriots.
We looked at quarterbacks who aren't looking for a major contract here. Here's part two, the tight ends.
Simply put, as the Patriots this past season can attest, there aren't that many good tight ends in the league in general, and even less are easily acquired.
When it comes to free agents, Hunter Henry (Chargers), Austin Hooper (Falcons), and Eric Ebron (Colts) are about it.
The Chargers have plenty of cap space ($48 million) to franchise tag Henry if they want to. Yes, he's had a lot of injuries, but a tag and then an extension would be the prudent thing for the Chargers to do.
The Falcons ($5 million) don't have any cap space but can create some more. Factoring in durability, Hooper might be the best tight end available. He's one of the best two-way tight ends in the game and would fit the Patriots perfectly. But will he be available? Thomas Dimitroff is no idiot. He knew where his cap situation was at the trade deadline. If he knew he couldn't tag Hooper, he would have just traded him at the deadline for something more than his eventual compensatory pick (third round).
The Patriots would have to be fairly desperate — and they are — to go after Ebron, who is mostly just a pass catcher and the Patriots need more at the position. Plus, the Colts, who aren't totally solid at tight end, don't even want Ebron back. There is also a lot of doubt about whether or not Ebron could handle the Patriots' offense. But, the Patriots cupboard is just that barren.
Beyond that, there's not much available in free agency. The bigger problem for the Patriots is that there are several teams looking for tight ends who have more cap space than the Patriots: