Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots free agent addition every day from February 18 through the start of NFL free agency on March 12.
The Patriots are tight end crazy in the same way that teenage girls are boy crazy. There is just an insatiable desire for more.
Last season, the Patriots began the season with six tight ends in tow — Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, Visanthe Shiancoe and Jake Ballard — and added a seventh in Kellen Winslow Jr., even if only for a short while. But by season’s end there were just three healthy tight ends on the Patriots active roster, which severely hurt their chances at a Super Bowl return.
This offseason, the Patriots already have four tight ends under contract — Gronk, Hernandez, Fells and Ballard — with the option of re-signing Hoomanwanui, who is a restricted free agent. But with Gronk’s health still a question and Fells’ future very much up in the air, adding another veteran tight end might be something to consider.
High-priced guys like the Titans’ Jared Cook, the Giants’ Martellus Bennett or even the Raiders’ Brandon Myers don’t make much sense for the Pats, given the combined $91 million they already have invested in Gronk and Hernandez. But that’s why someone the caliber of Anthony Fasano might be a better option.
Fasano will never post gaudy statistics quite like Gronk but he remains a reliable pass catcher, who has excelled even in an anemic Dolphins offense over the past few seasons. He set a new career high with 41 catches in 2012, while posting his second consecutive, and third career, five-touchdown season. Beyond the passing game, Fasano is also a good run blocker, who gives great effort on almost every play and displays a strong passion for the game — a quality Bill Belichick appreciates.
Fasano won’t cost the Patriots much, unlike many of the other guys on the free-agent market this season, and would offer some solid depth at the position if Fells and/or Hoomanawanui don’t return. The reasoning behind adding a player like Fasano would strictly be for depth purposes, especially considering Gronk’s seeming inability to finish seasons healthy.
The Patriots don’t have a need at tight end and should probably invest the $1 million or so that Fasano would cost into the cornerback or wide receiver positions. Then again, tight-end depth proved pivotal in 2012 and could again be a major factor for Tom Brady and the offense next year. If necessary, at least Belichick and company know there is a reliable option available for them in free agency.
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Other Free Agent possibilities: Gosder Cherilus; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; Danny Amendola; Anthony Spencer;