Free Agent Market For Tight Ends

Our list of 2015 free agents provides a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown of which players are eligible to hit the open market this year. However, that list of names doesn’t include much context or additional information about those players. So, with March’s free agent period fast approaching, we’ll be taking a closer look this month at the free agent market for each position. Today, we’ll turn our attention to tight ends. Let’s dive in….

Top unrestricted FAs:

Coming into the 2014 season, Cameron and Clay looked like potential top-10 tight ends in the NFL, but both players took a step back over the last few months. Cameron’s drop-off was particularly precipitous, due in part to concussion problems — the Browns tight end caught just 24 passes after racking up 80 receptions in 2013. Still, both players have proven they’re capable of being reliable pass-catchers, so I expect we’ll see them draw plenty of interest from teams that can’t afford Thomas.

Thomas, of course, is the crown jewel of this year’s free agent class, and while he’d be a lock to be franchised by many teams, the Broncos may not have the flexibility to make such a move, since they’ll likely to have to use that tag on Demaryius Thomas. Battling injuries himself down the stretch, the Denver tight end might have seen his stock dip a little after coming out of the gates on fire in 2014, but he should still easily land the biggest contract this winter of any player at the position — a top-five TE salary is definitely within reach.

As for Gresham and Paul, their career arcs look quite different thus far, though they find themselves in similar situations this offseason. Gresham has always put up solid receiving numbers for the Bengals, but has never fully fit in Cincinnati, especially with the team looking to give Tyler Eifert a larger role in the offense. Paul, meanwhile, was nonexistent in Washington’s passing game until 2014, when he broke out with 39 catches and 507 yards. With Jordan Reed still under contract in D.C., Paul may be the odd man out.

Other unrestricted options:

Clubs looking for a pass catcher at tight end should focus primarily on those players in the first group, because there aren’t many here that could be relied upon for consistent production. Still, TE is a position at which pass-catching isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all to being an effective player, and several of the guys in this group can contribute positive value even without running routes.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Fells, Green, Pascoe, and Spaeth all graded among the league’s best run blockers at the position. In fact, buoyed primarily by their strong run-blocking performances, Fells, Green, and Spaeth all ranked among PFF’s top 20 tight ends, placing well ahead of notable receiving TEs such as Heath Miller, Antonio Gates, and Coby Fleener. A club may not want to head into the 2014 season with Fells atop its depth chart at the position, but he’s certainly a respectable No. 2 option.

2015 may also be the last chance for Finley to make a comeback — having missed the better part of the last two seasons due to neck issues, the former Packers tight end may simply decide to call it a career and try to collect on his insurance policy. However, if he’s cleared by doctors to return to the field, I’d expect him to try to catch on with another team this year, and if he can prove he’s healthy, his upside should intrigue suitors.

Restricted FAs:

Considering these three players have combined for 32 career receptions, I don’t expect the bidding on their services to be all that competitive this offseason. It would be a surprise if any of them even received a restricted free agent tender from their current clubs, though they could still return to those teams at a lesser salary.

Previous looks at the 2015 free agent market:

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