Tight end is one of the more underrated positions in the NFL. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are two of the league’s best, and it was quite visible all season what happens when the New England Patriots were without Gronk and what happened for the New Orleans Saints when Graham was playing at his best.
The same can be said for the Baltimore Ravens and how things went without Dennis Pitta for most of the year. For blocking, the red-zone and simply moving the chains, having an elite or at least above average tight end can really change the way your offense works. Teams will be adjusting again for 2014 and trying to make sure they’re as good as they can be across the board. You can bet making sure they have a quality tight end will be on the list.
Let’s see who the top free agent tight ends are, and what the future may hold for them:
1. Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)
With Rob Gronkowski on the shelf at two different points in 2013, Graham was far and away the best tight end in football. He only topped his receptions total (86) by one from 2012, but put up monster yardage (1,215 yards) and scored a career high 16 touchdowns. Needless to say, the Saints will either franchise tag him or pull off a long-term deal. He isn’t going anywhere.
2. Dennis Pitta (Baltimore Ravens)
Pitta will be 29 when the 2014 season starts, but he’s still in his prime. The Ravens were also made full aware of his true value, as the Baltimore passing offense was lost at times in 2013 as he missed most of the year with a hip injury. With his preference being to stay with his pal Joe Flacco in Baltimore, it’s unlikely Pitta jets. Tight end-needy teams like the Falcons, Giants and Chiefs could come calling, though.
3. Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions)
Pettigrew is a very solid possession receiver, but has never developed into a play-maker or elite red-zone threat. With an inability to do much after the catch, whoever brings him on has to know he has a cap. With that said, he’s a solid blocker and can move the chains. His stock could be dried up in Detroit, but he should easily find a home due to the need at the position.
4. Brandon Myers (New York Giants)
Myers was a stud possession receiver in Oakland and flamed out as a one-year stop-gap in 2013. Part of that was a lack of a connection with Eli Manning, and another part was him being asked to block more than the Giants probably hoped he had to. The down year will get his new team some decent value. He’s not expected back with the G-Men.
5. Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers)
Finley is an exceptional athlete who has made some excellent plays in his career and appeared to be finally becoming the Packers drafted him to be before getting hurt. Unfortunately, he woke up during a contract year and suffered a serious neck injury. All of that adds up to make him a major risk. If teams get scared off, don’t be shocked to see the Patriots kick his tires.
6. Fred Davis (Washington Redskins)
Davis is an underrated talent who got tripped up by an achilles injury in 2012 and lost playing time to the more talented Jordan Reed in 2013. That doesn’t mean he can’t start and be effective elsewhere, though. Done in Washington, Davis may garner a look from teams looking to upgrade on the cheap like the Jets, Bills and Raiders.
7. Scott Chandler (Buffalo Bills)
Chandler is a fairly underrated weapon in the passing game, as he has better than advertised athleticism and is an exceptional red-zone threat with outstanding size and reliable hands. Buffalo would do well to keep him around unless they have a plan for an upgrade.
8. Garrett Graham (Houston Texans)
Graham filled in admirably when Owen Daniels went down with an injury in 2013, but was also pretty touch and go. He’s a poor man’s Daniels, but could start somewhere if given the chance.
9. Dustin Keller (Miami Dolphins)
Keller has already said he’d basically play for free to prove he can return from a gruesome knee injury. He has an uphill battle, but he seems determined and he still has natural talent on his side. Here’s to hoping he gets a chance and he can make it all the way back.
10. Ed Dickson (Baltimore Ravens)
Dickson is a fine athlete who probably has some left over untapped upside, but he’s also a big disappointment. The Ravens had such little trust in him that they brought in a 34-year old Dallas Clark in 2013. That about says it all.