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Offseason preview: Patriots need to overhaul their tight end position entering 2020

Related: Offseason preview: Patriots’ wide receiver position needs quick turnaround after disappointing 2019

New England Patriots Practice Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with four teams left standing, the New England Patriots will have to set their sights on the season to come: after being eliminated from the postseason on wild card weekend, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the AFC East champions have a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins on March 18.

With that being said, let’s break down where the team stands at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue with the tight end position where the Patriots have three players currently (still) under contract.

Ryan Izzo

Age: 24

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Izzo has a salary cap hit of $677,268 in 2020.

2019 review: After missing his entire rookie year on injured reserve, Izzo was back on the field for the Patriots’ spring and training camp practices and promptly able to earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. But while he saw regular playing time over the first six weeks of the season — playing 63.5% of offensive snaps and catching six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown — the former seventh-round draft pick was relegated to emergency duty following a concussion suffered in October. He did not play even a single snap for the remainder of the season.

2020 preview: Given that he finished the 2019 season third on the depth chart, Izzo’s long-term outlook does not appear to be encouraging — and that is despite him being one of just two tight ends under contract for 2020. The 24-year-old simply failed to play consistent football in his first real NFL season, and as such will need to fight for his roster life especially in case New England overhauls the entire position.

Matt LaCosse

Age: 27

Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. LaCosse has a salary cap hit of $1.55 million in 2020.

2019 review: One of the Patriots’ free agency signings last March, LaCosse struggled with an ankle injury for much of the summer and also hurt his knee during the regular season. As a result, he was limited to just 12 in-game appearances in his first year in New England. But even when he was on the field, the 27-year-old failed to make a consistent impact: as the team’s primary blocking tight end, he surrendered six quarterback disruptions and caught only 13 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

2020 preview: While LaCosse is under contract headed into 2020, the Patriots would save $1.4 million when parting ways with him versus a dead salary cap hit of only $150,000. Seeing the team go that route would not be surprising: LaCosse did have his moments in 2019, but he simply never established himself as a true number one tight end or a player capable of making consistent plays in the passing game. If New England opts to invest in free agency and/or the draft, he might therefore be on the outside looking in.

Benjamin Watson

Age: 39

Contract status: Set to enter free unrestricted agency on March 18.

2019 review: The Patriots lured Watson out of retirement in late May but a four-game suspension forced him to start the regular season on the sidelines. After initially not getting reactivated, the veteran did eventually return to New England’s 53-man roster and finished the season as the 1B option alongside Matt LaCosse. He went on to appear in 11 games between mid-October and the Patriots’ playoff departure on wild card weekend and as the team’s top receiving option at the position finished with 20 catches for 211 yards.

2020 preview: Immediately after New England’s season-ending loss, Watson cast doubt on his future with the team and speculated with retirement. Whether or not he actually steps away from the game, seeing the Patriots not retain the 39-year-old free agent would not be surprising: the tight end position needs more high-upside talent, and at this stage in his career Watson is unable to offer much more than a rotational/package-specific presence.