There are no two ways about it: The Patriots need serious help at tight end.
And considering the tight end group in this year’s draft class is fairly weak, New England probably would be best served to address the position via free agency.
One of the best tight ends in the NFL is bound for the open market when the new league year opens March 18. The Falcons have made it clear they will not be using the franchise tag on Austin Hooper, nor will they try to work out an extension with the two-time Pro Bowl selection. With Hooper’s days in Atlanta now numbered, ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen believes heading to New England would be in the 25-year-old’s best interest.
“I wrote about upgrading the tight end position in New England up top, and Hooper fits here,” Bowen wrote Thursday. “He was a volume target for the Falcons last season, catching 79 passes with six touchdowns, with all six coming on red zone targets. While I don’t view Hooper as a dynamic route runner, he has a really good feel for finding open voids in zone coverage and creating leverage. That meshes with the play-action game in New England.
“Use Hooper as a middle-of-the-field matchup player on seams, crossers and stick routes. The Browns and Bears could be in the mix from a scheme perspective here, too, and Hooper is likely to break the bank in a couple of weeks.”
Bowen’s last nugget doesn’t bode well for the Patriots, who aren’t exactly flush with salary cap space at present. That said, New England has a pretty good track record of finagling its finances, and it could conceivably pull a few strings in order to become a legitimate player for Hooper. One has to imagine adding the Stanford product would more than satisfy Tom Brady, too.
Hooper doesn’t necessarily have to be the answer, but New England, quite frankly, cannot start the 2020 campaign with Matt LaCosse atop its tight end depth chart.