The Patriots added some legitimate depth to the tight end position by adding free agent Daniel Fells.
New England's offense took a major hit in Super Bowl XLVI when Rob Gronkowski was limited with an ankle injury, and the Patriots slowed down midway through the 2011 season when Aaron Hernandez hurt his knee. Now, with Fells onboard, they've got a much more stable backup plan.
Fells has agreed to sign a three-year contract worth $5.25 million, according to a source. The deal could be worth as much as $7 million due to escalators, and Fells received $2 million in guaranteed money.
The Patriots have been interested in Fells in the past, but things finally materialized this offseason. They also got two good looks at the 6-foot-4, 272-pounder late last season, as the Patriots met Fells' Broncos twice in about a month.
Fells caught a career-high 41 passes for 391 yards to go along with two touchdowns in 2010 with the Rams. He entered the league out of UC Davis as an undrafted free agent in 2006, and his best asset was his pass catching ability. However, he's worked to become a better blocker in recent years, and that will play a key role in his playing time in 2012.
The Patriots spent the vast majority of the 2011 season with just two tight ends on their roster. They spent a fifth-round pick in last year's draft on Lee Smith and were also happy with Will Yeatman's development in training camp. Yet, both were claimed off waivers during final roster cuts, and the Patriots couldn't ever find that true answer as the third guy.
Now, with Fells in New England, the Patriots have improved their depth, and they'll also have more freedom to split Hernandez out further from the line. At the end of the day, it makes them a more difficult team to defend.
The Patriots' success with Gronkowski and Hernandez really reemphasized the position across the league last season, so teams should be expected to get overaggressive with tight ends during the draft. The problem there, though, is it's perceived as a weak class of tight ends.
Therefore, the Patriots targeted a low-cost player in free agency. And since Fells has been on their radar for several years, they're probably pretty happy with the acquisition.