2012 NFL Free Agent Tight End Rankings
With NFL free agency slated to get going in earnest on Tuesday afternoon, there is certain to be a lot of movement in the first normal offseason under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
The free agent class of tight ends this years is not deep, and was further thinned recently when the Washington Redskins used their franchise tag on Fred Davis and the Buffalo Bills signed Scott Chandler to a contract extension. The class did gain some name recognition late last week when the Indianapolis Colts released Dallas Clark, but there are simply not a lot of marquee names available for any team looking to add a veteran tight end this offseason.
Let’s take a look at some of the top free agent tight ends available this year.
1. Dallas Clark
Clark has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons, as he has played in a total of just 17 games and totaled 71 receptions. He will turn 33 in June, so the injuries have to be a concern for any interested team, but his prior production (235 catches, 27 touchdowns from 2007-2009) is hard to ignore despite the inherent risk. Clark is best used as primarily a receiving tight end, which could limit the amount of interested teams and also lessen his likelihood for success if he is not a virtually perfect fit on a new team. Clark could easily, and perhaps should, follow Peyton Manning to his new team as that may give him the best chance to succeed in a similar system to what the Colts had with Manning at the helm.
2. Martellus Bennett
Bennett has been stuck behind Jason Witten in Dallas to this point in his NFL career, and has just 85 catches in four seasons. He also has not even caught a touchdown since his rookie season, but is still young (25) and has the size (6’6, 287 lbs.) and athleticism to thrive if he can become a full-time starter. Bennett has underachieved to this point in his career, even with the circumstance he faced as a backup with the Cowboys, and will need to improve both his maturity and consistency to realize his full potential. With the tight end market being what it is, Bennett offers the most upside potential and should have plenty of teams interested in him.
3. John Carlson
Carlson missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury, and last year’s signing of Zach Miller makes him very unlikely to return to the Seattle Seahawks this offseason. He is reportedly not quite 100 percent yet, but Carlson had back-to-back 50 catch seasons in 2008 and 2009 and the fact he is still fairly young (28 in May) stands to make him fairly highly sought after in a thin tight end market. Carlson expects to be healthy heading into 2012, and as long as he can at least show progress in that regard during the free agent signing period he could step right into a starting job on a new team. He could also return to Seattle, some reports suggest that could be the case if the health of his shoulder is a lingering issue.
4. Visanthe Shiancoe
After putting together the best season of his career in 2009 (56 receptions, 566 yards, 11 TD), Shiancoe has seen his production fall off the past two seasons as the Vikings’ quarterback situation deteriorated. Minnesota looks to be in rebuilding mode, so Shiancoe will almost certainly be elsewhere in 2012 after reportedly turning down a contract offer from the team during the 2011 season. Teams in need of a tight end may regard him as the top tight end available in this year’s free agent class, despite the fact he will turn 32 in June, since he has proven durable and does not have the professionalism questions Bennett does. In the right situation, Shiancoe can still offer production.
5. Jeremy Shockey
Shockey played in more than 12 games for the first time since 2007 last season, and offered solid production (37 catches) as part of a productive tight end duo with Greg Olsen. The Carolina Panthers may be interested in bringing him back for 2012, but most likely not at anything close to the $4 million he made in 2011. There has been some talk that Shockey was contemplating retirement, which has since been refuted, and assuming he continues to play may be able to get more money elsewhere if he chooses. His age (32 in August) and injury history may scare a lot of teams away, but if nothing else Shockey is one of the most recognizable names on the tight end market this offseason.
6. Joel Dreessen
Dreessen has been a productive pass catcher over the past two season (10 touchdowns), and the Texans may be interested in resigning him despite signing Owen Daniels to a four-year contract prior to last season. Daniels has had injury issues over the past couple seasons, so Houston would almost certainly like to retain Dreessen and maintain their solid tight end duo. If he does hit the free agent market, multiple teams should be interested in signing Dreessen and the possibility of a full-time starting job and a more lucrative contract would be hard to ignore. The fact he may return to Houston keeps him down this list a little right now, but if talks with the Texans never materialize or go nowhere Dreessen could easily become very highly sought after on the open market.
7. Jacob Tamme
Tamme had a solid season (67 receptions, 631 yards, four touchdowns) in 2010 with the Indianapolis Colts as he filled in for Dallas Clark, but like most other Colts’ players struggled in 2011 as he had just 19 receptions for 177 yards and one touchdown. He may not prove worthy of starter-caliber money with just one season of good production under his belt, but he may serve as a low-cost option for teams looking to add a tight end this offseason. As is the case with Clark, Tamme may become an option for whatever team signs Peyton Manning and would likely come a lot cheaper than Clark. It is possible Indianapolis would bring back Tamme, as he is young enough (27 on March 15) to fit well with their rebuilding plan.
Other Notable Free Agent Tight Ends: Randy McMichael; Kellen Davis; Leonard Pope; Daniel Fells