Patriots Free Agency: 10 Tight Ends New England Could Target This Week

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Regardless of whether Rob Gronkowski decides to retire, help at the tight end position stands out as one of the New England Patriots greatest needs this offseason.

Non-Gronk tight ends caught just five total passes for New England in 2018, and the Patriots already have begun reshaping their depth chart by cutting top backup Dwayne Allen (who promptly signed with the Miami Dolphins).

With Allen gone, the Patriots’ tight end room consists of Jacob Hollister (four catches in 2018; ended the season on injured reserve), Stephen Anderson (zero catches; spent the entire regular season on the practice squad), Ryan Izzo (2018 seventh-round draft pick; placed on IR before Week 1) and Gronkowski, whose future remains uncertain.

The Patriots could look to address this need through the draft, which is loaded with highly touted tight end prospects. But in the meantime, here are 10 tight ends they could target in free agency once the NFL league year opens Wednesday:

Jared Cook
Age: 31
2018 team: Oakland Raiders
2018 stats: 68 catches, 896 yards, six touchdowns in 16 games
2018 Pro Football Focus rank (among tight ends): T-ninth

The top pass-catcher on a terrible Raiders team this past season, Cook set career highs in all three receiving categories and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 10-year NFL career. He’s the best tight end available in an underwhelming free agent class.

Jesse James
Age: 24
2018 team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2018 stats: 30 catches, 423 yards, two touchdowns in 16 games
PFF rank: 30th

James’ usage diminished in 2018 — his 39 targets were down from 63 in 2017 and 60 in 2016 — but his 14.1 yards-per-catch averaged far surpassed his previous career high of 8.7. At 6-foot-7, 261 pounds, James has enviable size and is regarded as a solid blocker, and he’ll be just 25 when the 2019 season begins.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Age: 26
2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2018 stats: 11 catches, 90 yards, one touchdown in five games
PFF rank: N/A

Just as James is known best around New England for his overturned touchdown against the Patriots in 2017, Pats fans likely remember Seferian-Jenkins for his goal-line fumble earlier that season. The former New York Jet signed a two-year deal with the Jags last offseason but hardly played in 2018, landing on injured reserve in mid-October. His lone touchdown catch came during a Week 2 rout of the Patriots. Jacksonville last month declined Seferian-Jenkins’ second-year option, making him a free agent.

Demetrius Harris
Age: 27
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs
2018 stats: 12 catches, 164 yards, three touchdowns in 15 games
PFF rank: T-44th

Harris, a 6-foot-7 former college basketball player, has put up modest stats over the past few seasons as Travis Kelce’s primary backup. His height makes him a potential red-zone threat, though, and he brings value in the kicking game after leading all Chiefs players in special teams snaps in 2018.

Tyler Eifert
Age: 28
2018 team: Cincinnati Bengals
2018 stats: 15 catches, 179 yards, one touchdown in four games
PFF rank: N/A

Immensely talented but constantly injured. That’s the book on Eifert, who caught 13 touchdown passes and made the Pro Bowl in 2015 but has played in just 14 total games over the three seasons since. A broken ankle ended Eifert’s 2018 campaign.

Tyler Kroft
Age: 26
2018 team: Cincinnati Bengals
2018 stats: four catches, 36 yards, zero touchdowns in five games
PFF rank: N/A

The second of three Bengals on this list, Kroft also is coming off a season-ending injury, in his case a broken foot suffered in Week 5. He had a career year in 2017, catching seven touchdown passes as Cincy’s top tight end with Eifert sidelined.

C.J. Uzomah
Age: 26
2018 team: Cincinnati Bengals
2018 stats: 43 catches, 439 yards, three touchdowns in 16 games
PFF rank: T-50th

Uzomah took on a more prominent role in the passing game after Eifert and Kroft were lost for the season, resulting in career-best numbers across the board.

Darren Fells
Age: 32
2018 team: Cleveland Browns
2018 stats: 11 catches, 117 yards, three touchdowns in 16 games
PFF rank: 31st

If the Patriots are looking for a blocking-first tight end to fill the role Allen played the last two seasons, they could do a lot worse than Fells, who won’t catch many balls but can move bodies in the run game.

Luke Stocker
Age: 30
2018 team: Tennessee Titans
2018 stats: 15 catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns in 16 games
PFF rank: T-fifth

Another veteran run-blocking specialist.

Luke Willson
Age: 29
2018 team: Detroit Lions
2018 stats: 13 catches, 87 yards, zero touchdowns in 14 games
PFF rank: 57th

Willson had some decent seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, but he was a total non-factor in his first year in Detroit.

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