2020 free agent tight ends the New England Patriots could target

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots didn’t have a plan for life after Rob Gronkowski at the tight end position. They could fix that in free agency this spring.

There’s no doubt the New England Patriots didn’t have a contingency plan in place for the tight end position after the not-so-sudden retirement of Rob Gronkowski last March.

The Patriots clearly struggled without the solid production from the position they’d been accustomed to. (Gronk retired as the best tight end in NFL history after only nine seasons in the NFL.)

The tight end position is an important element to the Patriots offense. If the player can do it right, the availability of plays becomes endless for a team. The ability of pass and run blocking from a tight end, along with occasionally running some dynamic routes, can really balance out an offense and create some unpredictability for the opposing defense.

For the New England Patriots to convince Tom Brady to stay put, they’re going to have to equip him with an offense that includes weapons. Even if the Patriots target a tight end at some point in the draft, an established veteran is probably best for the team moving forward right now.

In regards to the tight end position, the Patriots currently have two players signed through multiple years under contract, but they’re just complementary players at best: Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse. New England is definitely looking to upgrade the position this offseason.

Let’s see what the free agent class of 2020 has to offer for tight ends:

Hunter Henry

There were maybe a handful of tight ends who emerged in 2019 as being elite players around the league, and Hunter Henry is one of them.

Henry is wide and solid, and he’s great in both the running game and passing attack. He only played in 12 games this season due to a knee injury suffered in Week 1, but Henry was still able to rack up 55 receptions, 652 yards, and five touchdowns.

He became Philip Rivers’ favorite target and caught over 72% of his targets this season, with a catch average of almost 12 yards per reception. Henry is only 25 years old and he should be looking for a nice payday as he enters his prime years in the NFL.

It’ll be surprising if the Chargers let him slip away in free agency, but any team would benefit from signing Hunter Henry.

Eric Ebron

This might sound surprising, but Eric Ebron is only entering his seventh year in the NFL and he’s still just 26 years old. Based off his play, I thought he was much older than that, but he should be right in the middle of his prime years.

Ebron has spent the last two seasons in Indianapolis, although he really only had one productive year for the Colts. With Andrew Luck under center in 2018, Ebron accumulated 66 receptions, 750 yards, and 13 touchdowns (third in the NFL in 2018).

A year later with Jacoby Brisset at QB, Ebron finished the season with just 31 receptions, 375 yards, and three touchdowns.

2019 wasn’t the best outing for Ebron in regards to being in a contract year, but Ebron has still proven to be very productive when he is in the right system. He can catch the ball and make plays through the air, while also providing blocking for the running game… and even showing the ability to get to the second level with his blocks.

Tyler Eifert

There was a lot of hype when Tyler Eifert first came into the NFL. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Eifert was largely compared to some of the great tight ends the NFL has had to offer.

Unfortunately, Eifert has had a long list of serious injuries that have kept him sidelined for the majority of his career thus far. Eifert has been in the NFL since 2013, and yet this past season (2019) was his very first time playing in all 16 regular season games for his team.

His best season came in 2015, when the tight end had 615 yards and scored 13 touchdowns off of 52 receptions.

There will definitely be a market for Eifert through free agency, but as previously mentioned, his long list of injuries will always be associated with him. After his healthiest season just occurred, Eifert might have made a big enough impression to land a nice deal for himself though free agency.

Austin Hooper

Austin Hooper would be the most ideal tight end acquisition for the New England Patriots. He is versatile and can really stretch the field to open up windows for his offense.

The tight end had a breakout year this season and was one of the more productive players at the position in 2019. He finished the season with 75 receptions, 787 yards, and six touchdowns.

Since joining the NFL in 2016, Hooper has increased his production and polished his overall game consistently every season. Hooper could arguably be the best tight end in free agency – and he could also hold a market value of near $10 million per season.

Jacob Hollister

The New England Patriots didn’t give Jacob Hollister anywhere close to enough time to make an impact on the team. In just two seasons with New England, Hollister only made eight receptions for 94 yards. After being traded to Seattle in 2019 for the remaining 11 games of the season, Hollister proceeded to rack up 41 receptions, 349 yards, three touchdowns, and caught 69.5% of his targets from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

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Hollister has proven to be an excellent weapon in the passing game, but he is still unpolished as a run blocker. Regardless, at only 26 years old, Hollister has plenty of time to mold into a better all-around player, and he’ll likely receive plenty of attention on the open market from many different teams.