Eric Ebron

NFL Rumors: Patriots target Eric Ebron signing with rival Steelers

NFL Rumors: Patriots target Eric Ebron signing with rival Steelers

If the New England Patriots want to add an established tight end in free agency, they're running out of options.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are signing free-agent Eric Ebron to a two-year contract worth $12 million, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Friday.

The Patriots reportedly had interest in the 26-year-old tight end, who made the Pro Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 while catching 13 touchdown passes.

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With talented pass-catchers like Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry and Jacob Hollister off the board, the free-agent tight end market is starting to thin out.

Here are a few names still on the board as of Friday:

Tyler Eifert (29 years old)
Jordan Reed (30)
Delanie Walker (36)
Geoff Swaim (26)
Luke Stocker (32)
Charles Clay (31)
Vernon Davis (36)
Nick O'Leary (28)

Eifert is an intriguing target but comes with injury concerns after playing in six games total between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The Patriots also could pursue tight end help via trade or the 2020 NFL Draft, which has a few talented tight end prospects -- Dayton's Adam Trautman and LSU's Thaddeus Moss among them -- who could be early-round selections.

What's clear is that New England needs the help: Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, the only two tight ends on the roster after Ben Watson retired, combined for just 19 receptions last season.

NFL Rumors: Patriots to pursue Eric Ebron, other free-agent tight ends

NFL Rumors: Patriots to pursue Eric Ebron, other free-agent tight ends

You knew this already, but the New England Patriots need tight end help.

And they reportedly have a name atop their list entering NFL free agency.

The Patriots will be "tight end hunting" next week when free agency begins and are expected to pursue Eric Ebron, CLNS Media's Evan Lazar reported Thursday.

The NFL's legal tampering window opens Monday at 12 p.m. ET, while free agency officially begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

The 26-year-old tight end spent the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts after four years with the Detroit Lions. He enjoyed a career campaign in 2018 with 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns but regressed in 2019, tallying 31 catches for 375 yards and three scores.

Ebron also has dropped 14 passes over the last two seasons and dropped nine balls in 2018, tied for third-most in the NFL.

But the athletic pass-catcher still would give an immediate boost a Patriots tight end position highlighted by Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, who combined to catch just 19 passes from quarterback Tom Brady last season.

Adding firepower at wide receiver and tight appears to be a priority for New England this offseason. That priority may become pressing if New England wants to convince Brady to return for a 21st season instead of signing elsewhere next Wednesday when he hits unrestricted free agency.

The Patriots have other options at tight end outside Ebron; The Green Bay Packers officially released veteran Jimmy Graham on Thursday, while our Phil Perry discussed the merits of signing former Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry on the latest Next Pats Podcast.

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NFL free agents 2020: Top 10 tight ends

NFL free agents 2020: Top 10 tight ends

The New England Patriots offense simply wasn't the same without Rob Gronkowski in 2019.

The future Hall of Famer's retirement forced the Patriots to roll with Matt LaCosse, Benjamin Watson, and Ryan Izzo at the tight end position.

To put Gronkowski's absence into perspective, the trio combined for 36 catches, 418 yards and two touchdowns during the 2019 campaign. Gronk hauled in 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns while being hampered by injuries in 2018.

Needless to say, improving at the tight end position should be a priority for the Pats in 2020.

Will they address it during the NFL Draft, or will they go the free agency route? If it's the latter, here are their top options.

Click here for the top-10 free-agent tight ends for 2020.