We continue the 2016 Free agent series by examining the tight ends. The tight end class is fairly weak and a few NFC North teams could use an upgrade.
The Packers, Bears, Lions and Vikings could use some back-up tight ends.
The Bears had success with Zach Miller but Miller is a free agent this offseason. Bennett is still under contract but had a down year in 2015 for the Bears and may not be worth the cap number. Bennett was placed on IR (fractured ribs) and the Bears might have an injury situation to deal with in 2016 with Bennett. The Bears could upgrade their blocking tight end situation as well over Khari Lee.
The Lions may cut Brandon Pettigrew to free 2.65 million in cap space. Pettigrew tore his ACL late in the 2015 season and may not be ready for the start of the 2016 season. The Lions would need a blocking tight end. Tim Wright is a restricted free agent but didn’t do well in 2015 (2 TDs) with Detroit. Wright can’t block and late season pick-up Bear Pascoe is also a free agent who is average at best as a blocker.
The Vikings have a free agent tight end of their own in Rhett Ellison. Ellison is battling an injury (knee) but could be re-signed on a cheap one year deal. Kyle Rudolph and developing second year player MyCole Pruitt should be set on the roster.
The Packers could use an upgrade over oft injured Andrew Quarless and exclusive right restricted free agent Justin Perillo. Richard Rodgers is the starter but was poor in YPC and separation. Rodgers is a good red zone threat (8 TDs) but lacks speed and blocking skills.
Antonio Gates is a future hall of fame tight end. Gates is 35 years old but still productive despite missing the first 4 games of 2015 due to a suspension. Gates had 630 yards and 5 TDs in 12 games. Gates had 821 yards and 12 TDs in 2014 and 872 yards and 3 TDs in 2013. Gates is still a dangerous tight end. Gates is originally from the Detroit area. A return home would be a nice one two punch with Ebron. San Diego will probably make a strong push to keep the hall of famer in San Diego one last season.
Ladarius Green is another Chargers free agent tight end. Green had 429 yards and 4 TDS as a part time starter with 63 targets (11.6 YPC). Green has always had potential that he never got the chance to show it in San Diego behind Gates. Green could move on to become a starter for another team.
Coby Fleener has been Andrew Luck’s safety blanket since 2012. Fleener is a former second round pick that the Colts want to keep. Fleener had a down year at 491 yards and 3 TDS without Luck for much of this season. Fleener had 774 yards and 8 TDs in 2014 with Luck. Fleener has some adequate blocking skills as well and would be a very good addition for any team.
Benjamin Watson had a surprisingly nice year with the Saints despite being 35. Watson had 825 yards and 6 TDs with 109 targets. Watson proved he has something left in the tank and he may re-sign with the Saints. Watson is a decent pass blocker but struggled in run blocking.
Marcedes Lewis is a big 31 year old tight end and former Jacksonville first round pick. Lewis is expendable with Julius Thomas in Jacksonville for year 2. Lewis had 226 yards at 14.1 YPC on only 37 targets. Lewis was a good pass blocker but below average run blocker. Lewis is strictly a backup but could help a team with tight end depth.
Zach Miller had a strong 2015 season filling in for Martellus Bennett. Miller is 31 and wants a decent sized pay raise. Miller had 439 yards and 5 TDS in limited action on only 46 targets. Bennett had 439 yards on 80 targets. Miller had a rapport with Jay Cutler and may be worth re-signing.
Jermaine Gresham landed in Arizona after injury plagues seasons with the Bengals. Gresham had only 223 yards and 1 TD. Gresham would be worth a one year minimum deal as a boom or bust pickup.
Logan Paulsen is a decent all around backup tight end from Washington. Paulsen was injured in 2015 which may factor into his signing. Clay Harbor from Jacksonville had poor run blocking grades but can be an all-around tight end.
Dwayne Allen is another former Colts tight end. Allen is more of a blocking tight end. Allen struggled in run blocking with a -11.5 run blocking grade in 2015. Allen has work to do to earn a roster spot with any team. The former 3rd round pick has some talent though. Allen had 521 yards his rookie year but has lost targets every year. Allen only had 1 catch in 2015 in 524 snaps. Allen did have 8 TDs in 2014, however.
Vernon Davis. Elite. Enough said. Davis has been on the decline for years with the 49ers and didn’t do much for the Broncos after a mid-season trade. A team will take a one year flier on Davis at age 31.
Craig Stevens (+8.3) is a good run blocking tight end. He isn’t much of a receiver but a team will be happy with Stevens on a cheap deal in the run game.
This is a weak tight end group but a couple decent players could be added in free agency. Tight end needs are strong for depth for the entire NFC North. Gates could really help a team for the 2016 season and LaDarius Green and Coby Fleener would be good long term options.