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Eagles TE Trey Burton would be an interesting fit with the Patriots in free agency

With free agency right around the corner, it’s time to take a look at some players who New England could target from other teams. The first in this series is tight end Trey Burton.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For those who don’t know who Trey Burton is, he is a tight end for the Eagles who has spent his entire three-year career with Philadelphia so far. Behind both Zach Ertz & Brent Celek on the depth chart, Burton did see a good amount of play this past season as the Eagles ran a lot of “13” personnel sets, AKA three tight end sets. He was used quite often as a slot wide receiver in these formations due to his size and speed (6’3”, 235 lbs/4.62 forty-yard dash). This goes back to his days at the University of Florida, where Burton was used as “jack of all trades” player and spent time at quarterback, fullback, wide receiver and tight end.

While Burton is not as heralded of a player, he does have a resemblance to a former University of Florida tight end that was a little undersized for the position. That would be Aaron Hernandez (6’2”, 245 lbs), who had 175 receptions, 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns across three seasons for the Patriots before his infamous murder conviction. Like Hernandez, Burton profiled best coming out of college as a “move” tight end, which is a player who can play both the tight end and wide receiver position. This hybrid position is one only a few can play successfully, like Hernandez, Jordan Reed and Jimmy Graham among others. That isn’t saying Burton is destined for the success of those three, but he has shown he can play that position well.

Tight end is actually a big area of need for the Patriots going into the offseason. While star tight end Rob Gronkowski is still under contract, he is coming off another major surgery. He is expected to be ready for the 2017-2018 season, but it has been proven time and time again the team needs a solid back-up/number two tight end for their offense. The team under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels likes to run “12” personnel (two tight end sets) often for both passing and rushing plays, so the number two tight end is a position of importance. But with Gronkowski the only tight end under contract for next season as Martellus Bennett, Greg Scruggs, Matt Lengel and Michael Williams are all free agents.

Now while not all of those free agent tight ends will be back with the team in 2017, if the Patriots are not able to re-sign Bennett, the team will need to find yet another player who can function in their number two tight end role. While Lengel showed well in a very limited role, he simply isn’t a player the Patriots should want to count on in such a prominent role on their offense. And the upcoming NFL draft does have several prospects at tight end who could come in and contribute right away potentially. But even with that, it might be too much to ask/rely on a rookie to take on that responsibility right out of the gate. Which brings us back to the young veteran Burton.

As an undrafted free agent signing back in 2014, the Eagles were able to sign him to a three year, $1,537,500 contract. In a weak free agent tight end class headlined by Bennett, it’s fair to assume Burton could see a raise in the open market. But he is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Eagles would have the ability to match any offer another team makes to him. So it is possible that the Eagles are willing to give him a bigger contract to keep him, but restricted free agents haven’t scared away the Patriots in the past. As we have seen with Chris Hogan last season and Emmanuel Sanders a few seasons ago, New England has no problem going after restricted free agents.

And with Bennett potentially looking at seven to eight million dollars per year offers come free agency time, Burton would likely come at a major discount if the Patriots can’t/won’t re-sign Bennett. But even if Bennett was brought back, Burton would still be a young and versatile player to have on an offense with his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage or move out to the slot on plays. He has shown off his receiving ability with having the fourth most receptions and receiving yards despite being the Eagles’ number three tight end this past season. Coming off out college, Burton profiled as a player who is a “very good athlete, natural hands-catcher....very smart...outstanding personnel character...highly competitive team player”, according to Nolan Nawrocki back in 2014 for Nawrocki also mentions Burton as “very tough, durable and will play through pain”.

Burton checks off a lot of the boxes for a Belichick player with his position versatility and high character/team player mentality. And with Danny Amendola’s status for 2017 with the team up in the air with his contract, the team could easily replace his production from the slot and on special teams with someone like Burton. He may not appear to be a “flashy” free agent option, but then again, neither were players like Hogan and Dion Lewis before signing with the Patriots either.