Patriots Set at Tight End, Might Ignore Boring Crop of Free Agents and Concentrate on Draft Class for Depth

Patriots Set at Tight End, Might Ignore Boring Crop of Free Agents and Concentrate on Draft Class for DepthEditor’s note: Jeff Howe will preview each position in free agency every day through Feb. 28. This edition highlights the tight ends.

The Patriots have the best tandem of tight ends in the NFL, so they won’t be combing through free agency to add to this position. Yet, they’ll likely add depth, as they did through the draft last year before losing both Lee Smith and Will Yeatman on the waiver wire.

The Patriots will probably go the draft route again unless they can land a talented veteran who is happy with a role as a third-stringer. The good thing for the Patriots is they’re locked and loaded at a position that has a very underwhelming group of free agents.

Head of the Class

1. Jermichael Finley: Well, this was supposed to be Finley until Wednesday’s news hit that he signed a two-year deal to remain in Green Bay, which seemed like a fair resolution for each side. However, there’s such a lackluster crop of free agents at the position that no one else really deserves the nod at the head of the class. Check it out yourself.

Diamond in the Rough

Martellus Bennett is in a similar mold to Finley. He’s got freakish size (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) and potential, but he hasn’t figured out how to maximize it, at least not anywhere near the way Finley has. Bennett was stuck behind Jason Witten on the Cowboys’ depth chart, and there’s no shame in that. Yet, Bennett’s work ethic has been questioned, and if he was diligent enough behind the scenes, the guess is the Cowboys would have found a way to throw him more passes. Bennett’s best statistical season came in 2010 when he caught 33 passes for 260 yards, but the production was cut in half in 2011 with 17 receptions for 144 yards.

There’s a decent chance Bennett never pans out, but the talent is definitely there. If he can find the right coaching staff and structure, he might be able to explode. Of course, most of that relies on him.

Fit for New England

Honestly, it’s an unimpressive list of free agents, so if the Patriots want to go the veteran route, they should give a call to Alge Crumpler, who wasn’t ready to play in 2011 due to a shoulder injury. There’s no guarantee Crumpler even wants to play again, but if he does, he’d be a seamless addition for the locker room. Crumpler was extremely well-respected during his lone season in New England in 2010, so much so that he was named a captain just a few weeks into the year. If Crumpler can still mash, he’d be an asset.

Otherwise, maybe they could look into someone like Visanthe Shiancoe. But the most likely route probably involves a draft pick.

Don’t Forget

1. Fred Davis was having a career season in 2011 with 59 catches, 796 yards and three touchdowns before getting suspended for four games due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Reports have indicated Davis has failed multiple drug tests for marijuana use, which will reduce teams’ interest this offseason.

2. Jeremy Shockey is the most well-known free agent tight end on the market, but his reception total has dropped for five consecutive seasons.

3. John Carlson and Scott Chandler are two of the best tight ends available. Again, it’s not an ideal market for teams that need an upgrade.

4. Daniel Fells stuck out here and there while watching Broncos tape late last season.

5. Remember when the Patriots traded a fifth-round pick in 2010 to the Buccaneers for Alex Smith? Well, Smith was cut early that September, but he’s a free agent now.

6. Other than that, the free agents include the likes of Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, Leonard Pope, Bo Scaife and Randy McMichael.

Free Agent Previews: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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