Jeff Howe will break down one position of the free-agent class each day. However, free agency won't begin until the NFL has a new collective-bargaining agreement. On Friday, wide receivers were covered.
Outside of quarterback, tight end is essentially the only position where the Patriots don't need to make any upgrades. They've got three really good ones who fit their roles perfectly, and veteran Alge Crumpler has been the perfect mentor for 21-year-olds Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In fact, Crumpler is the type of guy who would have never been allowed to leave New England if he were drafted by Bill Belichick. He's simply a model Patriot.
But hey, just because the Patriots don't need any tight ends doesn't mean we should ignore the position in our series of free-agency primers. Here's a look at the tight ends on the 2011 open market.
Head of the Class
Zach Miller didn't get a lot of attention because he was hidden in Oakland and sometimes lost his rhythm with a revolving door at quarterback and a foot injury that had him on crutches at times in 2010. The 6-foot-5, 256-pounder is a do-it-all tight end who has 226 receptions for 2,712 yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons. He's got some good potential if he went to a more high-powered offense.
Diamond in the Rough
Owen Daniels isn't exactly an unknown commodity, but his contract might not match his potential due to a torn ACL that ended his 2009 season and severely limited him in 2010. In 24 games in 2008 and 2009, Daniels caught 110 passes for 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns. It would be mildly surprising if the Texans let Daniels walk because he developed some good on-field chemistry with quarterback Matt Schaub.
Fit for New England
This category doesn't really work as well when the Patriots won't be looking to make any improvements at the position, but let's play the game anyway. If the Pats feel the need to upgrade the position, go straight for the best tight end on the market and sign Miller. Then, make Hernandez more of a wide receiver.
1. You've heard this one before. A first-rounder didn't live up to his hype until he broke out in a contract year. That's the case with Marcedes Lewis, a first-round pick in 2006 who only managed seven touchdowns in his first four seasons. But he had career highs in 2010 with 58 receptions, 700 yards and 10 scores. Lewis, who is 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, has always gotten by with his blocking ability, but the Jaguar finally emerged as a receiving threat in 2010. Buyer beware, though.
2. The Giants moved on from Jeremy Shockey because they liked what they had in Kevin Boss, who is entering free agency. Boss is a good blocker who has never wowed anyone with stats — he's got 110 receptions for 1,482 yards and 16 touchdowns in his last three seasons — but he's reliable.
3. Former Patriot David Thomas is a free agent after two decent seasons in New Orleans. The Saints have Shockey and Jimmy Graham, so it seems unlikely Thomas could return, unless he's comfortable with being third on the depth chart, which isn't all that bad of a situation in that offense. Anyway, after struggling to break out in New England, Thomas had 65 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons with the Saints.