In hindsight, the Patriots could have addressed the tight end position as they built their team for 2013, and the choice to address other needs ultimately hurt their Super Bowl quest.

They won’t miss that chance this time around.

Good news for the Patriots: They can explore multiple avenues to upgrade the depth behind Rob Gronkowski. And because the former All-Pro is coming off a torn ACL — his seventh surgery in two years — the Pats must ensure they have starting-caliber talent alongside their most dangerous offensive weapon in case he misses more time. That also was a concern last year when Gronkowski endured a string of forearm surgeries and a back procedure, and Aaron Hernandez had shoulder surgery before his career was derailed by a murder charge.

The Patriots’ 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was proof of some offensive deficiencies, and the easiest way for them to improve the skill positions this offseason is to draft a high-quality tight end. Gronkowski and D.J. Williams are the only tight ends under contract, as Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are unrestricted free agents.

Both players could be retained on minimum deals, but the block-first tight ends combined for 14 catches, 152 yards and two touchdowns, and that production needs a serious uptick because defenses hardly accounted for their presence in the passing game. If the Patriots advance to Super Bowl XLIX, they can’t expect to get through the Seattle Seahawks or another dominant NFC defense by essentially fielding six offensive linemen.

Free agency begins March 11, two months before the draft, and that’s where the Pats should find some competitors for the third tight end spot. This class of free agents has some decent players who could outperform their contracts, as Jermichael Finley (neck), Dustin Keller (knee) and Fred Davis (missed 19 games the past three seasons) are coming off injuries. Of course, if Finley or Keller clear medical evaluations, their prices will rise. And if they sign here and get injured in 2014, the Patriots would be in the same undermanned position yet again next season.

Other options include Brandon Pettigrew, Brandon Myers and Scott Chandler, all coming off subpar years. Pettigrew had 83 receptions for 777 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 but has averaged 50 catches for 491.5 yards and 2.5 touchdowns since. Myers had 79 receptions for 806 yards and four scores with the Raiders in 2012 but failed last season with the Giants (47-522-4). Chandler, a 6-foot-7, 260-pounder, has averaged 44.7 receptions for 538.3 yards and 4.7 touchdowns in his past three seasons with the Bills. All would be good options for $2 million-$3 million per season as injury insurance for Gronkowski.