We are continuing with our off-season top five free agent lists. I have gone through QBs, RBs, and WRs so far and have received a pretty solid response. Our site was down for a couple days, so we are a little behind, but I will do my best to catch-up. Let’s take a look at some TEs.
TOP 5 FREE AGENT TEs 2017
5. Larry Donnell
Donnell went undrafted in 2011 out of Grambling St. There wasn’t much expected from the TE, and during his first two seasons he made no impact. He served on the practice squad and on special teams but wasn’t a thought on offense.
In 2014, Donnell broke out. As the third receiving option behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, he would rack up over 600+ yards and six touchdowns, including a three-touchdown performance against the Redskins in week four.
The following year, on his way to another solid season, Donnell suffered a neck injury that would cause him to miss eight games. 2016 would lead to disappointment for the TE again. He saw targets taken away from him due to the emergence of rookie WR Sterling Shepard, TE Will Tye, and the return of WR Victor Cruz.
The 28-year old TE will hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. I expect him to take the biggest offer and cash in on this opportunity. He has a lot to work on, including blocking and open field catches, but his height at 6’5″ makes him a solid red-zone target.
4. Jermaine Gresham
Gresham was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 21st pick in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma. As the third option in the Bengals’ offense, Gresham was putting up numbers. He put up numbers that earned him two Pro-Bowl selections in his first three seasons. He would finish his five-year Bengal career averaging 500+ yards and over five touchdowns per season.
In 2015, Gresham signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals to play with his rookie-year QB Carson Palmer. There were not a lot passes to go around in the Cardinals offense, as they already had Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and an emerging pass-catching RB in David Johnson. His first season in Arizona was a disappointment, ending with his lowest yards and touchdown totals.
Apparently, teams saw something in that limited production, and he was offered multiple multi-year contracts around the league. Gresham would turn down the deals to stay in Arizona on another one-year deal. With even more options now with the Cardinals, Gresham would still not receive a ton of attention, but it was a step up from the previous season.
Gresham excels in run-blocking and is a pretty solid pass-catcher. He could still be a number one TE option for someone, and he will likely get more multi-year offers this offseason. I could see him cashing in if an offer blows him away, but by his actions last offseason, it appears to me that he wants to have a chance to win. If Palmer returns to his prior form, the Cardinals have a legitimate chance.
3. Jordan Cameron
Cameron was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of USC. The first two seasons of his career, he got little playing time behind Ben Watson. When Watson left in 2013, Cameron took over. He dominated the competition, recording over 900 yards and seven touchdowns, earning him a Pro-Bowl selection.
2014 was not as positive for Cameron. He suffered his third concussion of his professional career and would miss some time. He appeared in only ten games.
People would remember the season he had in 2013, which would lead to the Miami Dolphins signing Cameron to a two-year $15 million in 2015. In a pretty deep, young receiving core, the TE would only put up 300+ yards and three touchdowns. 2016 was just as disappointing. He suffered his fourth concussion since being in the NFL in week three. Cameron would miss the remainder of the season.
Health is the biggest concern with Cameron. He has experienced four concussions in four seasons, and this is very serious. There were reports back in October that he was potentially considering retirement. The physical ability is no question, but the injury concerns and consistency questions will hurt his offers this offseason if he decides to play.
2. Jared Cook
Cook was taken by the Tennessee Titans with a fourth round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft out of South Carolina. His first two seasons he battled out for targets with Bo Scaife, so he saw little production. In 2011, Cook became the number one TE and put up solid number one stats with over 700 yards and three touchdowns.
He signed with the Rams in 2013. His contract was for five years and $35 million. He was consistent in his three years in St. Louis, but he really showed his blocking ability. During a cutting spree last offseason, the Rams cut Cook.
In 2016, Cook would become a rare free agent acquisition by the Packers on a one-year deal. His best moment of the season came on a clutch reception to set up Mason Crosby for a game-winning field goal to defeat the Cowboys in the divisional-round playoff game.
The soon-to-be 30-yard old TE doesn’t have the ability to be a number one anymore, but he can still be a solid contributor. He can still be the blocking TE in any system, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he re-signs with the Packers. He can make some money and still have a chance to win a championship.
1. Martellus Bennett
Bennett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M. It was clear that when he was drafted, Bennett would be the second TE behind Jason Witten. He couldn’t get on the field in Dallas. Between his lack of production and questionable locker room presence he had fallen out of favor with the Cowboys.
The Giants signed Bennett in the 2012 offseason. As the number one TE, he saw a career high in both yards and touchdowns. This would turn into a four-year deal worth $20.4 million with Chicago the following offseason.
He would spend three seasons with the Bears proving to be one of the better all-around TEs in the league. Bennett earned himself a Pro-Bowl selection in 2014 after putting up over 900 yards and six touchdowns in an offense that featured star options in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte. Again, it was his off-field antics that would force yet another team to move on from Bennett.
In 2016, Bennett and a 2016 sixth-round pick (pick was traded and eventually became WR Devin Lucien and the 2017 fourth-round pick that will be forfeited due to Deflategate) were traded to the New England Patriots for a 2016 fourth-round pick (CB Deiondre’ Hall). The addition of Bennett in New England was one that brought back memories of the two-TE combinations of the Patriots’ past. He also added some insurance for the often-injured Rob Gronkowski. This would prove to be a good move as Rob Gronkowski missed half the season. Bennett’s 700+ yards and seven touchdowns would help the Patriots on their way to a fifth, and Bennett’s first, Super Bowl victory.
Bennett is clearly one of the best all-around TEs in the league. There are not many other guys who have the combination of blocking skill and pass-catching ability that he has. He’s tough and plays through a lot of pain. These are all qualities that get guys paid in the NFL. The question will be whether or not a team can look past his off-field issues. There weren’t many in New England, so if he finds a place that is mutually beneficial, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. I could see Bennett getting paid in a deal that would be roughly $32.5 million over four seasons. This could be his last chance to truly cash in on a big contract, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he took that opportunity.
Teams that should be looking for TEs:
This free agent tight end class is not great. Everybody this is in need of a TE should be looking at bringing in Bennett, but the other guys will be much cheaper options. They should draw contracts that are half the annual value of Bennett’s.
Oakland should be looking for to spend their cap space of over $40 million on another weapon to pair with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Bennett could significantly help out both their pass and run games with whoever they decide to use at the RB position next season. The offense was already talented, but imagine what they could be.
The Dolphins have over $40 million in cap space as well. They have a fair amount of options in the passing game, but adding another talent couldn’t hurt. Miami has been looking for a solid TE for some time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to make a big slash. They could always dip back in and re-sign Dion Sims for cheap money.
Denver could also be a team looking to capitalize this year. They have two young QBs that are battling for the starting job and having a triple-threat of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Martellus Bennett would be helpful. I could also see them rolling the dice on a guy like Jermaine Gresham.
Chicago needs to make a decision on what direction their going in, but at this point, any option in the passing game will help. There is no chance Bennett goes back to the Bears, but they could easily attract a talent like Jordan Cameron or Jermaine Gresham. Again, this all comes down to whether or not the Bears want to contend any time soon.