2014 NFL Free Agents: Exploring the Tight End Market

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 20, 2014

2014 NFL Free Agents: Exploring the Tight End Market

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    This is Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets. Were you expecting to see Jimmy Graham?
    This is Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets. Were you expecting to see Jimmy Graham?Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

    With the free-agency period less than three weeks away, things are about to get interesting around the entire NFL.

    For our purposes here, we will be focusing on just one position when it comes to the potential open market.

    Here’s a look at the top tight ends around the league who might be available for hire come March 11.

    As we found out this week, one of those performers is no longer on anyone’s short list as Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis was suspended indefinitely by the league on Wednesday, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.

    We will also take a pass for now on New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow, who has his own off-the-field issues to deal with as documented by A.J. Perez of NJ.com in January.

    But those are subjects for another time. Here we will take a look at who figures to be on the field in 2014, and we will employ some help to do so via the following sites.

    • Spotrac (subscription required) provides us with a comprehensive list of tight ends that could become unrestricted free agents on March 11.
    • Joel Corry of CBS Sports lists the projected franchise tender totals for all positions in 2014.
    • Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks all NFL tight ends’ performances in 2013, including their work as both run and pass-blockers.

    Should we expect the unexpected over the next few weeks when it comes to movement at the position? Only time will tell.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    2013: 86 receptions, 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns

    Back in 2012, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was given the franchise tag by the organization. Eventually, the player and team wound up hammering a long-term deal.

    Will the same happen here with Graham? And will the two-time Pro Bowler be tagged as a tight end or wide receiver? If the latter is the case, it’s been reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that the four-year veteran (310 catches, 41 touchdowns in only 62 regular-season games) may file a grievance.

    The Saints have until March 3 to give Graham the franchise tag. Otherwise, the team could watch the talented performer become an unrestricted free agent if the parties don’t agree to terms before March 11.

    It is hard to imagine Graham heading elsewhere. But stranger things have indeed happened.

Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2013: 20 receptions, 169 yards, 1 touchdown

    What a difference a year and a hip injury make.

    On his way to helping the Baltimore Ravens win a Super Bowl title in 2012, tight end Dennis Pitta totaled 14 receptions for 163 yards and three scores in four postseason games.

    This past season, the reliable pass-catcher saw his season limited to only four contests. Pitta managed 20 receptions for 169 yards and one touchdown in that short stint. The previous season, the former fourth-round draft choice was tied for second on the team with 61 catches, seven of those for scores.

    Now healthy, will he be back in Baltimore snaring passes from Joe Flacco, who undoubtedly missed both Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin in 2013?

    Keep in mind that the Ravens also have a decision to make regarding tight end Ed Dickson, who is also slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March. More on him later.

    So will the Ravens put the franchise tag on Pitta? It may buy them some critical time considering some of the team’s other free-agent concerns.

Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    2013: 26 receptions, 398 yards, 4 touchdowns

    It took the New York Jets until the final two weeks of the season to put together a winning streak.

    However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some positives along the way of an up-and-down 8-8 season.

    One of those positives was tight end Jeff Cumberland, who led the team with four touchdown receptions and averaged an impressive 15.3 yards on 26 receptions. Keep in mind that the Jets’ passing game combined for only 13 scores in 2013.

    Cumberland, a former undrafted free agent, played in only four games in his first two years in the league. Over the past two seasons, he’s started 24 out of 30 contests and totaled 55 receptions for 757 yards and seven touchdowns.

    The best may be yet to come for the 6'4", 249-pound target...wherever he may land in 2014.

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2013: 41 receptions, 416 yards, 2 touchdowns

    While the Detroit Lions were busy in April 2009 getting their current quarterback with the first overall pick, they also secured the services of tight end Brandon Pettigrew later in the first round.

    There’s absolutely no doubt that Matthew Stafford will be pulling the trigger for new head coach Jim Caldwell in the Motor City this fall. But will the talented passer have Pettigrew at his disposal?

    In five NFL seasons, the former Oklahoma State standout has caught 284 passes, 16 for scores. To put that second figure in perspective, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught 16 touchdown passes in 2013.

    Yes, the Lions offense is very different, and that “Megatron” guy gets a lot of attention when it comes to Stafford. Last season, rookie tight end Joseph Fauria emerged as a big-time end-zone option. Fauria caught only 18 passes, but seven were for touchdowns.

    Now let’s see if Pettigrew remains an option for the Lions.

Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    2013: 53 receptions, 655 yards, 2 touchdowns

    Raise your hand if you knew that Scott Chandler led the Buffalo Bills in receptions this past season.

    After bouncing around the league with the San Diego Chargers, Bills and Dallas Cowboys his first four years in the NFL, Chandler has found a home back in Buffalo the last three seasons. And his reception total has gone up every season.

    In 2011, the one-time fourth-round pick by San Diego in 2007 caught 38 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns. One season later, Chandler totaled 43 receptions for 571 yards and six more scores. And last year’s total of 53 grabs edged wide receiver Steve Johnson by one (52) for the team lead.

    The seven-year veteran may get some play from teams around the league, but don’t be surprised if he re-signs with the Bills before free agency begins.

Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens

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    Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

    Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens

    2013: 25 receptions, 273 yards, 1 touchdown

    Back in 2010, the Baltimore Ravens selected tight ends in both the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

    One round before general manager Ozzie Newsome selected BYU’s Dennis Pitta, the team opted for Ed Dickson from the University of Oregon.

    After catching 11 passes during his rookie season, Dickson was a 16-game starter in 2011. The 6’4”, 244-pound target caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns.

    However, the last two seasons haven’t been nearly as productive. In 29 contests, the four-year veteran has totaled only 46 receptions for 498 yards and one score.

    With both him and Pitta scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March, the Ravens can’t afford to lose both of them. Then again, they may not be able to retain both of their young tight ends.

Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2013: 25 receptions, 300 yards, 3 touchdowns

    Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley saw his 2013 season cut short. Now the talented target is looking to get back on the field in 2014.

    Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB on SI.com documents Finley’s comeback attempt from spinal fusion surgery. Now we will see if that comeback includes a return to “Titletown.”

    Finley's agent, Blake Baratz, told the New York Post, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com: "Right now he is a Packer and I know he would love to play his entire career there. For the next five weeks or so they have his exclusive negotiation rights. If it doesn't work out in Green Bay for whatever reason then I believe there are a number of teams that could use a talent like Jermichael."

    There is no denying Finley’s desire or talent. There is also no doubt that if he is healthy, he’s a very intriguing option.

Best of the Rest

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Garrett Graham, Houston Texans

    2013: 49 receptions, 545 yards, 5 touchdowns

    The former fourth-round pick from the University of Wisconsin finished third on the team this past season in receptions and tied for the team lead with five touchdown catches. However, it should also be noted that Graham was targeted 89 times last season and wound up with only 49 grabs.

    As his numbers via Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicate, Graham also had his issues with pass blocking in 2013. Still, he and Owen Daniels could make for a potent combination under new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.


    Brandon Myers, New York Giants

    2013: 47 receptions, 522 yards, 4 touchdowns

    One season after his breakout campaign with the Oakland Raiders, Myers wasn’t nearly as productive with the Giants. Then again, it was far from a stellar year for quarterback Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin’s offense.

    In 2012, Myers totaled a team-high 79 receptions for 806 yards and four scores with the Silver and Black. While the former sixth-round pick equaled his touchdown production this past season with the Giants, he was targeted 75 times and totaled 47 catches in 2013.


    Dustin Keller, Miami Dolphins

    2013: None

    A knee injury suffered during the preseason versus the Houston Texans derailed Keller’s season before it even got started. In five seasons with the New York Jets (2008-12), the former first-round pick totaled 241 receptions for 2,876 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    Considering the emergence of tight end Charles Clay last season, who totaled 69 receptions and a team-high six touchdown catches, will Keller get another chance with the Dolphins?


    Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers

    2013: 32 receptions, 312 yards, 2 touchdowns

    This past season, the former fifth-round draft choice played in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career.

    After missing all of 2012, Quarless started a career-high 10 games and totaled a career-high 32 catches. With teammate Jermichael Finley’s future in Green Bay somewhat cloudy, is Quarless the heir apparent? Keep in mind that he’s totaled only 56 catches, three for touchdowns, in his brief career. And Quarless suffered a knee injury in December of 2011 that caused him to miss all of 2012.


    Dallas Clark, Baltimore Ravens

    2013: 31 receptions, 343 yards, 3 touchdowns

    Is there anything left in Clark’s tank following 11 NFL seasons?

    The former first-round draft choice has totaled 505 catches for 5,665 yards and 53 scores during his productive career. Clark spent the first nine seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and the last two years with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012) and Ravens (2013).

    Will the veteran pass-catcher make it four teams in as many seasons this fall? We may wind up waiting awhile when it comes to Clark.