By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Last year, we had some big name tight ends switch teams — Jimmy Graham and Eric Ebron, to name a couple — with mixed results. When looking at this year’s crop of free agent tight ends, I see a bunch of guys that don’t fit the modern era tight end as well as the two names mentioned above.
Teams want to spread the ball around. Very few teams have an offense that relies upon bludgeoning defenses and subsequently playing good defense. Those types of teams rely more on blocking tight ends than those with great skills as a pass catcher.
The two biggest names in this year’s class of free agent tight ends are Jared Cook and Tyler Eifert. Eifert was a free agent last year, settling for a one-year deal to return to Cincinnati to prove he could stay healthy. Needless to say, it was the same ol’ story for Eifert. He succumbed to injury after playing in only four games, and once again has to prove he can stay healthy. We know the talent is there — he was a first round draft pick and has one season with 13 touchdowns — but he’s missed 53 out of a possible 96 career games. At a certain point, teams are going to stop waiting for him to prove his health, or lack thereof.
Cook is coming off a career season at the age of 31. After the Raiders dealt away WR Amari Cooper midseason, Cook became the last offensive weapon standing. He set career highs in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. He finished second in the league among tight ends in catches exceeding 20 yards downfield, 3rd in deep passing yards, and eighth in yards per route run. He’ll be 32 heading into the 2019 season so it’s fair to wonder how large of a contract he can procure. Working in Cook’s favor though — production is production. And he produced. Cook should see some 3-year offers and approach $6 million a season. With as much cap space as Oakland has, and coach Jon Gruden’s love for veteran players, I fully expect the Raiders to be in the bidding to retain Cook’s services.
The rest of this year’s class are a who’s who of serviceable players with occasional fantasy value, but not enough to get too excited over if they land in great situations.
Steelers TE Jesse James is in the mold of a Jason Witten-type — not overly athletic, but knows how to block and can pick you up some third downs. Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman had his moments last year, setting career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, but he’s never topped 300 yards or 2 touchdowns in a season. Ravens TEs Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle were part of the rotation on offense, but Baltimore spent two hight draft picks last year on Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews so they’ll be looking for new homes. Again, neither have exceeded 300 yards in a season, but can be effective in a pinch. Bengals TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft have been productive during stretches when Eifert was out, with Uzomah being the more athletic of the two. Uzomah did average over 10 yards per reception last year and could see a contract north of $4 million a year.
Other names to look out for of players who could be on the move include: Cowboys’ TE Geoff Swaim, Lions TE Luke Wilson, Jaguars TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Dolphins TE A.J. Derby, and Chargers great Antonio Gates.
I’ll say it again, not a lot to love this year among TEs. Pay close attention to this year’s NFL Draft for a couple of impact guys such as the Iowa duo of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr., and Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger.