With NFL Free Agency 2013 calming down somewhat (unless you are the Baltimore Ravens) it’s time to reflect on some of the key moves.
Now most pundits will focus on the impact of Wes Welker moving from the New England Patriots to the Denver Broncos or the ‘Fax-Gate’ scandal that saw the Baltimore Ravens snag Elvis Dumervil.
Myself, having played a season in England for the Crawley Raiders II as a tight-end, I want to spend some time looking at some of the Free Agency movement involving this position, and look at some very early projections for those who have moved and those who have inked deals in the past month to remain with their current team.
Before looking at some of the deck shuffling it’s worth reflecting on the rise of the importance of the tight-end.
We have witnessed the evolution of a two tight-end set from the old-school two tight-end set of five or so years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs would deploy Tony Gonzales as a real weapon and Jason Dunn as essentially a sixth offensive lineman to the almost unstoppable combination of New England Patriots duo Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (when both are fit).
I’m unable to do more than guess here but it sure feels that proportionally the number of catches made by the tight-end position on all 32 NFL teams has risen over the past five years. The majority of NFL teams have factored in the tight-end as a core offensive weapon and not a secondary or dump-off target for a quarterback looking for a cheap completion on a busted play.
So here are my top five tight-end free agency moves (in no particular order):
#1 – Brandon Myers – Oakland Raiders to New York Giants
I had the privilege of seeing Myers play live against the Dolphins just six months ago and despite not being anywhere near a household name he was the most reliable target for Carson Palmer. Myers deserves a bigger, brighter stage and there is no better place than the Big Apple to show what you are made of. After 32 catches in his first three seasons Myers pretty much exploded onto the scene in 2012 with 79 catches for 806 yards. Big Blue fans love a hard working reliable tight-end – names like Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey are pretty hard to live up to, but Myers has the skills to settle in immediately. Eli Manning will be happy that he has a safe pair of hands to throw to as he looks to get the Giants back into the postseason.
2013 prediction – 75 catches for 750 yards and 7 tds
#2 – James Casey – Houston Texans to Philadelphia Eagles
Casey was woefully misused by the Houston Texans as a hybrid fullback and despite only 66 career catches, and similar to Myers, he enters his fifth NFL season with a huge opportunity to make a big impact with his new team. That team, the Philadelphia Eagles has a new coach, a new philosophy and a quarterback who is returning for his fifth season in the home of Rocky Balboa. this equates to the ‘land of opportunity’ for Casey, much like the ‘line’ given to Rocky by that greasy haired promoter.
2013 prediction – 57 catches 520 yards and 5 tds
#3 – Delanie Walker – San Francisco 49ers to Tennessee Titans
Without doubt an unsung hero on his old team, Walker had a habit of coming up with big catches in big situations. Having spent seven seasons on the West Coast, Walker never had a real chance to shine, providing a support role to Vernon Davies over every one of the past seven seasons. With Jared Cook’s locker not even emptied Walker will be hoping to slot in as a starter. It’s quite a rare situation to be a backup tight-end for seven seasons before moving into a starting role. Walker is the kind of player you root for, but Jake Locker is a significant downgrade on Colin Kaepernick. Walker will not be going back to a Super Bowl anytime soon with the Titans, but he should have his best career statistical output in 2013.
2013 prediction – 48 catches for 580 yards and 3 tds
#4 – Dustin Keller – New York Jets to Miami Dolphins
When you are being targeted by Mark Sanchez, and have a backup who is better known for kneeling down than throwing a forward pass then being able to escape that situation must be like a breath of sweet Florida sunshine air. Talking of Florida sunshine that is exactly where Keller is now plying his trade as a Miami Dolphins starter. Keller will replace, and upgrade the play of Anthony Fasano. Now Keller was injured for half of 2012, but he is not known as injury prone. He has averaged 48 catches a season over five years, but he has been held back by average to poor quarterback play. In Miami Ryan Tannehill was the forgotten man as other 2012 rookie quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck commanded the headlines. Keller and Tannehill need to set up a strong bond in camp, and if they do it could mean very good news for Fish fans.
2013 prediction – 66 catches for 670 yards and 5 tds
#5 – Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans to St Louis Rams
Potential is a funny old word. To me its a way of saying expectations being unfulfilled. A bit like the career so far of Jared Cook, all 6 ft 5 inches of him. Cook has again been let down by some average quarterback play and some bad play-calling. In St Louis he will need to work alongside Lance Kendricks. Both had almost identical stats in 2012, so something will have to give. I think Cook will get around 65% to 70% of the tight end targets from Sam Bradford. The Rams are going to be intriguing to watch in 2013 with a new look backfield and the marauding Cook exploiting any safety coverage mismatches.
2013 prediction – 65 catches for 740 yards and 4 touchdowns
Other notable moves include Tony Gonzales remaining at the Atlanta Falcons for one more shot at a Super Bowl, and Martellus Bennett (Giants to Chicago Bears) which could work if Jay Cutler realises that there is actually another offensive target aside Brandon Marshall.
There is also the rather low-key saga of where current Washington Redskins tight-end Fred Davis will end up in 2013 – Buffalo, New York or back in D.C being the three main contenders.
How do you rate your teams tight-end depth and would you have liked to have seen one of my top five free-agent tight-ends joining your team?