The New England Patriots sorely missed the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who abruptly announced his retirement last offseason. The Patriots tried to fill the void left by Gronkowski by luring veteran Ben Watson out of retirement and signing him to a one-year deal. Watson joined Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo in the Patriots depth chart, but they failed to help the team’s cause as they combined for just 36 catches for two scores. In comparison, Gronkowski caught 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns in just 13 games two seasons ago. With Watson turning free agent and contemplating retirement for the second time in his career, the tight end position is one of the spots that need to be addressed by the Patriots when free agency begins on March 18.

Hooper an ideal fit for Patriots

According to NFL analyst Matt Bowen, the Patriots should pursue tight end, Austin Hooper, in the free-agent market. “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 said. Last season, Hooper caught 75 passes for 787 yards and five touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons, who drafted him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. “An ideal fit for Hooper in 2020? Give me the Patriots,” said Bowen. In his four-year stint with the Falcons, Hooper recorded 214 catches for 2,224 yards and 16 scores. However, there is a possibility that the Falcons might sign Hooper to a new deal as he is considered one of their cornerstones on offense, team owner Arthur Blank told Vaughn McClure of ESPN last month.

Ebron, Henry also available for Patriots

Andy Hart of, for his part, said that the Patriots could venture into free agency to find their new tight end with Hunter Henry and Eric Ebron available. Last season, Henry caught 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns for the Los Angeles Chargers while Ebron tallied 31 catches for 375 yards and three scores for the Indianapolis Colts.

Hart said the tight ends in the 2020 Draft class are not that strong compared to last season. Earlier, it was reported that the Patriots could take a chance on LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of Hall of Fame and former Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss, according to Phil Perry of NBC Sports.

The younger Moss’ draft stock rose when he caught five catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns in their 42-25 win over the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship game, According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, the 6-foot-3, 249-pound Moss could be taken in Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.

However, the tight end spot won’t be a problem for the Patriots if Gronkowski returns to New England next season. Earlier, Gronkowski hinted that he might return to the Patriots in his comment on a post by veteran quarterback Tom Brady.