First in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 10.
Position: Tight end
Players under contract for 2015: Rob Gronkowski (contract through 2019), Michael Hoomanawanui (2015), Tim Wright (2015), James Develin (FB/exclusive rights FA)
Level of need: Low to moderate
Projected top target: Lance Kendricks (Rams)
Why Kendricks fits: The 2011 second-round draft choice of the Rams played one year under current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in St. Louis and was viewed as a multi-dimensional player who could potentially stress a defense. His production has been limited, in part, due to instability at quarterback and scheme changes. Former Rams general manager Billy Devaney once described Kendricks this way: "He’s really athletic. He’s got great hands, extremely smart. He can run. He’s got good speed, and you can use him in a lot of ways, on the line, off the line, in the backfield. There are a lot of places where we can use the guy." At a position where the Patriots aren't likely to be investing heavily in free agency in 2015 based on their current depth chart, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Kendricks is viewed as a potential value signing who would add another layer to the depth chart beyond 2015.
Other names of note: Jordan Cameron (Browns), Charles Clay (Dolphins), Jermaine Gresham (Bengals), Daniel Fells (Giants), Rob Housler (Cardinals), Lee Smith (Bills), Julius Thomas (Broncos).
Market conditions: The draft class is viewed as weak at the position for the second straight year, while the veteran free-agent class is stronger.
Tight-end based questions: Could a fourth tight end fit on the roster? A larger role for Tim Wright in 2015? With the team's usage of a sixth offensive lineman as an eligible receiver, does it lessen the need for a pure blocking-based tight end?