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Patriots agree to terms with Eric Bjornson

Looking to fill the void left by Ben Coates' release from the team, the Patriots have agreed to terms with Dallas Cowboys tight end Eric Bjornson.

While he is not the receiver Coates was in his prime, Bjornson, 28, is a capable target for quarterback Drew Bledsoe and he posted solid numbers in two seasons as the Cowboys starting tight end.

Those two seasons came in 1996 and 1997. He started 10 games in 1996 after filling in for the injured Jay Novacek and hauled in 48 passes for 388 yards with three touchdowns. A year later, he made 47 grabs for 442 yards in 14 starts.

The 6-4, 235-pound Bjornson has battled injuries throughout his career, but showed solid receiving skills during those two season. In 1998, he was replaced as the starter by 1997 first-round pick (22nd overall) David LaFleur out of LSU. That season, Bjornson had just 15 receptions for 218 yards before making 10 catches last year for 131 yards.

Bjornson will compete with third-year tight end Rod Rutledge, who is a solid blocker, but has yet to prove himself as a receiver. The scouting report on Rutledge is that he has soft hands, but lacks concentration too often as a receiver. Bjornson's signing means Rutledge can still develop those skills without the pressure of being the team's focal point at tight end. Rutledge had seven receptions for 66 yards in 1999 after going without a catch during his rookie campaign.

Bjornson was originally a fourth-round pick (110th overall) in 1996 out of Washington.

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