Rob Gronkowski was sorely missed by the Patriots in the 2019 NFL season, to say the least.

New England, of course, was never going to be able to totally replace the future Hall of Famer, but the tight-end production in the team’s first post-Gronk season was beyond poor. The trio of Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo only combined for 36 catches with two touchdowns over 27 games, and it’s not as though those unimpressive numbers were made up for by top-notch blocking.

As such, a tight end stands as a pressing need with the official start of free agency right around the corner. ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen believes Austin Hooper could help alleviate the issue.

“At age 25, with the route-running chops to win in the middle of the field, Hooper will have plenty of options on the open market,” Bowen wrote. “In 13 games last season, he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and five scores. An ideal fit for Hooper in 2020? Give me the Patriots.”

Attacking the free-agent market probably would be New England’s best route for bolstering its tight end group. The prospect pool at the position in this year’s draft class is fairly weak, and even if it was more robust, inexperienced players rarely thrive in the Patriots’ offense. With four seasons under his belt, Hooper, obviously, would be more equipped to make the transition to Foxboro.

Hooper might not be the only veteran tight end on the Patriots’ radar, however. Hunter Henry reportedly has been “consistently” mentioned as a possible fit.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images