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Patriots add depth for 2017 offseason by signing TE Rob Housler

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots signed running back Dion Lewis to a reserve/future contract on Dec. 31, 2014, the transaction hardly moved the needle. Think about how relevant that is now.

With Lewis making the successful transition from reserve/future contract player to impact performer, it is a reminder that every roster addition has the chance to be a difference-maker and thus shouldn't be overlooked.

That is the context in which Thursday's news that the club has inked tight end Rob Housler to a reserve/future deal is passed along.

A reserve/future contract means Housler will join the Patriots when the 2017 league year officially begins on March 9.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Housler didn't play in the NFL in 2016. He had entered the league as a high third-round draft choice (69th overall) of the Arizona Cardinals in 2011 out of Florida Atlantic.

Housler played for the Cardinals from 2011-2014, totaling 105 receptions for 1,133 yards and one touchdown. He then split the 2015 season between the Cleveland Browns (six games) and Chicago Bears (four games) before spending the 2016 offseason with Chicago, which released him at the final roster cut-down.

Housler, 28, currently projects as a long shot to earn a roster spot, although the Patriots' personnel picture at tight end is unsettled for 2017 as Rob Gronkowski is coming off back surgery and Martellus Bennett is an unrestricted free agent. Matt Lengel, who was signed off the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad in November, should be back as he is an exclusive rights free agent. Michael Williams, who spent this season on injured reserve, is a restricted free agent.