Free-agent fit: Tight end

March, 10, 2013
3/10/13
5:30
PM ET
Seventh in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 12.

Position: Tight end

Players under contract for 2013: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Brad Herman

Level of need: Low

Projected top targets: Dallas Clark (Buccaneers), Michael Hoomanawanui (Patriots), Jake O’Connell (Chiefs)

[+] EnlargeMichael Hoomanawanui
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesMichael Hoomanawanui made a positive impression on Patriots coaches last season.
Why Clark fits: The Patriots visited with him last year in free agency before Clark elected to sign with the Buccaneers. Clark totaled 47 receptions for 435 yards and four touchdowns last season, showing he still has something to offer as he enters his 11th season. In the event the Patriots sign a tight end, it would be with the No. 3 or 4 spot in mind in the event of injuries Gronkowski and Hernandez, and Clark would be a nice insurance policy.

Why Hoomanawanui fits: He played for the Patriots last season and made a solid impression on the coaching staff with his smarts, dependability, work ethic and versatility in a reserve role. He’s a restricted free agent.

Why O’Connell fits: The 2009 seventh-round draft choice played under current Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll with the Chiefs last season, so his learning curve wouldn’t be as steep as some others. The signing of a player such as O’Connell (6-3, 250) would be with depth in mind, as a roster spot wouldn’t be a sure thing.

Other names of note: Gary Barnidge (Panthers), Billy Bajema (Ravens), Travis Beckum (Giants), Martellus Bennett (Giants), Jared Cook (Titans), Anthony Fasano (Dolphins), Tony Gonzalez (Falcons), Ben Hartsock (Panthers), Dustin Keller (Jets), Brandon Myers (Raiders), John Phillips (Cowboys), Alex Smith (Browns), Delanie Walker (49ers), Benjamin Watson (Browns)

Market conditions: This is one of the strong areas of free agency. Teams seeking a tight end have a variety of options who have proven production in the NFL. It appears to be a group that is heavier on tight ends who are more receiver-like than pure blockers.

Questions to answer at position: Will Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez make it through the season healthy? … Can Jake Ballard return to his pre-injury form and give the Patriots a solid No. 3 option on the depth chart? … Will the Patriots view Daniel Fells’ $1.25 million base salary as too expensive?.

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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