It’s a good time for the start of free agency, because the Patriots don’t have any tight ends on their active roster right now. New England surprisingly released Chris Baker on Thursday on the eve of the NFL’s free agency period.
Baker was a steady block-first tight end who caught 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games in his only season with the Patriots. In February 2009, Baker signed a five-year, $14.4 million contract, although it really shaped up to be a two-year deal due to heavy bonuses and escalators he would earn after the 2010 season, according to a report. New England will save about $1.8 million next season by releasing Baker.
Ben Watson, the Patriots’ other tight end, is a free agent, and it seems unlikely the 2004 first-round pick will be back in New England.
The Patriots mostly used their tight ends in blocking roles last season, and Baker and Watson (29 receptions, 404 yards, five touchdowns) had minimal production. The release of Baker, however, appears to be more about money than a change in positional philosophy.
Thursday is the deadline for teams to place a tender on restricted free agents, so we’ll know more about the class of free agents at that position by midnight. As of now, the crop of unrestricted free agents is fairly uninspiring. The Patriots were also reportedly interested in trading for Bears tight end Greg Olsen, who caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009.
The 2010 draft class is also considered to have a deep pool of tight ends, and the Patriots can be expected to target that position with one of their four draft picks in the first two rounds.