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The New England Patriots knew it would be impossible to replace Rob Gronkowski. But abandoning the tight end spot altogether in 2019 probably wasn’t the best course of action.

New England’s lack of a starting-caliber NFL tight end hampered the offense tremendously. In fact, no team had less production from the position.

With a glaring hole at tight end, the Patriots should look to former first-round pick Eric Ebron to fill the void. After all, the 2018 Pro Bowler needs the Patriots just as much as he needs them. And if all goes according to plan, the Patriots-Ebron pairing may just become a reality this season.

Eric Ebron failed to live up to first-round draft status in Detroit

The 2014 NFL draft will be remembered as the year of the wide receiver. Unfortunately, Detroit Lions fans will remember it differently.

After watching Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans come off the board in the first seven picks, the Lions enviably sat at pick No. 10. And when Detroit came on the clock, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and a number of other high-profile prospects remained on the board.

Ultimately, the Lions took Ebron and Beckham went three picks later to the New York Giants. That fateful decision caused Lions fans countless headaches over the next few years. Ebron’s immense physical skills simply never translated to the field.

In four years in Detroit, the former North Carolina Tarheel started just 37 games and averaged just 47 catches per season. The supposed playmaking machine caught just 12 touchdowns in 56 games with the Lions.

Eric Ebron flashed Pro Bowl skills with Colts

Despite a disappointing start to his career, Ebron signed a two-year contract with the Colts. Joining forces with Andrew Luck proved to be a career-altering move. At least it seemed that way.

In a complete 180, Ebron transformed from a drop-prone, unreliable target to the NFL’s top-scoring tight end. Though he started just eight contests, Luck’s new favorite target set career-highs across the board with 66 catches, 750 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

That breakout performance led to high expectations for his second season in Indianapolis. Of course, Luck’s abrupt retirement threw a wrench in those plans. To compound the problem, Ebron had mysterious ankle injuries that limited him to just eight games before he landed on injured reserve. His final stat line of 31/375/3 was massively disappointing and certainly played a role in the Colts slipping from fifth in scoring in 2018 to 16th.

Patriots and Ebron pairing would be a win-win for both sides

Colts general manager Chris Ballard looked like a genius for coaxing a Pro Bowl year out of Ebron in 2018. But after a lost season, it’s clear the Colts moved on from the mercurial tight end.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Ebron needs to prove he wasn’t just a one-year wonder. And what better way to rehab his value than to land with the NFL’s best reclamation project destination: New England.

From Corey Dillon to Randy Moss to Darrelle Revis, New England has a proven track record of rehabilitating veterans’ value. Dillon arrived with plenty of baggage before he put the offense on his back en route to a Super Bowl championship. Moss broke the NFL’s receiving touchdown record in his first year playing with Tom Brady. Revis famously joined forces with New England in 2014 and cashed in just a year later after earning a ring.

Ebron could be the next reclamation project for Belichick and his staff. The ultra-athletic pass-catcher would immediately slot in as one of the team’s top targets, and he would come at a fraction of the cost of Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper. A classic one-year, prove-it deal would give Ebron the ability to cash in next offseason while also providing the Patriots with a much-needed explosive pass-catching tight end.