By: George Haraktsis
With this year’s tight end market as deep as it’s ever been, us fans need to know where the top guys are going! Let’s find out!
1. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks, (31)
With the recent news coming out that Jimmy Graham is reportedly done in Seattle, the entire football community is clamoring to know where he’ll go next.
Graham’s career never came to fruition in Seattle. He suffered a torn patellar tendon 11 games into his first year, but bounced back in 2016 with over 900 yards and 6 TDs. This year, Graham posted 10 TDs, all in the red zone, and made his fifth pro bowl. However, Graham’s 520 receiving yards and 9.1 yards per reception were some of the lowest totals of his career. Although the team has expressed interest in retaining Graham, his age and the Seahawks current cap situation would make signing him tough. With all that being said, where will Jimmy Graham end up?
Never rule out a good reunion story, especially one starring Graham and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are in the market for a tight end three years removed from trading one of the best at the position and failing on the Colby Fleener experiment. Graham is arguably the best tight end on the market in years and the team’s window to get the 39 year old Brees another Super Bowl ring is quickly closing. The addition of Graham would help with reaching that goal. Although Graham had his best seasons with the Saints to the tune of three pro bowls and one All-Pro honor, we cannot forget how this marriage ended last time. Two years into Grahams $40 million dollar extension the team shipped him off to Seattle for a 2015 first round pick and Max Unger, which apparently left a lot of bad blood between the two sides. There have been rumors, however, that Jimmy has put these issues behind him. If these two sides can see eye-to-eye on a possible Jimmy Graham homecoming it would benefit both sides immensely.
The Baltimore Ravens could also be in the mix for the All-Pro tight end. The Baltimore Sun’s Joe Zrebiec tweeted that he expects the Ravens to go after a TE who can stretch the field and be a red zone threat like Graham. He also mentioned they value adding a TE like this as much as they would adding a WR, another area of need. This would provide the Ravens a great fit for Flacco who has had success throwing to good tight ends in his career. If the price isn’t too steep this could be a perfect match for the birds.
2. Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles, (26)
The orchestrator of the “Philly Special” is a free agent, and after how well Trey Burton performed during his brief stint filling in for Zach Ertz and the ensuing games, coupled with his age, some would argue he is the number one tight end on the market. While I still have Graham at that position, Burton could prove me wrong a few years down the road.
With the Philadelphia Eagles not expected to sign Burton it looks like he will be donning another uniform come September. A very likely candidate to pursue his services is the Chicago Bears. The Bears have a hole at tight end after Zach Miller’s gruesome leg injury this past season. With $49.6M in cap space after the Kyle Fuller tagging and Ryan Pace’s supposed commitment to surrounding Mitch Trubisky with talent, the $6M price tag per year at Burton’s level of play should be enough to coax the Bears into signing Trey. He would be a welcomed addition to a team with a deficit at the pass catcher position.
Another team that would benefit from taking a swing at Trey Burton would be the newly led Green Bay Packers. Brian Gutekunst has taken the reigns from long time GM Ted Thompson, and with the organization’s public statement to be more aggressive in free agency he is expected to make some moves. Trey would provide that middle-of-the-field target that Aaron Rodgers has been desperately seeking. With Nelson’s and Cobb’s days numbered, an infusion of youth would be a prudent choice for the Green and Yellow if they plan on keeping Rodgers for years to come.
If the Patriots are actually concerned about Rob Gronkowski retiring Trey Burton would be a great contingency plan. He can move all over the field and could be the Aaron Hernandez to the Gronkowski if Gronk chooses to play another season. With Martellus Bennett being cut recently, this move seems even more likely.
3. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals, (28)
If not for his laundry list of injuries, Tyler Eifert might have topped this list. During his breakout season Eifert put his skills on display to the tune of 53 receptions, 615 yards, and 13 TDs- all career highs. While Eifert comes with a huge reward if he hits, the risk is still there. Who will take a shot on him?
There are rumors, according to Bill Williamson, that the Raiders will be trying to get more athletic at tight end this season, and Eifert fits that bill. Eifert has ties to the Raiders in the form of former Bengal’s defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who could vouch for the talent that Eifert could bring to the Raiders. I hope we haven’t forgotten about the new sheriff in town too, John Gruden, who may be looking to make a splash with his new team. Eifert would give the Raiders another red zone target, easing the pressure off of Crabtree, while also making the team less dependent on Amari Cooper, who has underperformed in this area. The current tight end in Oakland is Jared Cook who had a decent year in the Silver & Black, but he could be cut with no dead money while freeing up $5.3 million in cap space. It all may wind up coming down to cost with Eifert, but his injury history, along with cutting Cook, could lower his price and allow the Raiders to sign him to a friendlier deal.
The team who probably has the best shot at getting (retaining) Eifert is the Bengals, who have an extensive knowledge of his injury history. Marvin Lewis said at the combine “hopefully something can be done to keep Tyler in Cincinnati.” I think Eifert is important to him and “hopefully it can get done” (via Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson), so Eifert is obviously a priority to the team who drafted him. He clearly fits the offense, and has given their QB, Andy Dalton, a red zone target he’s comfortable with. For the team who made him a first round pick back in 2013, it will ultimately come down to their comfort with his injury history and the way the market plays out for him.
4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets, (25)
Seferian-Jenkins was cut from the Buccaneers last year due to his off-field antics and major immaturity. He was quickly scooped up by the New York Jets where he had a career renaissance, turning his attitude around as well as his production. ASJ posted the highest yardage and reception totals of his career with 50 and 357, respectively. He is now a free agent and looking to turn his productive season with the Jets into a lucrative contract
If the Baltimore Ravens lose out on the Jimmy Graham sweepstakes, expect them to go after someone like Austin Seferian-Jenkins to fill that void. Seferian-Jenkins is an athletic, big bodied red zone threat with reliable hands who would make his presence felt immediately in Baltimore. His advanced statistics cement that notion- during the 2017 season ASJ only had two drops on 74 targets, according to Fox Sports. But what makes him so appealing to the Ravens is his predicted cheaper price tag. According to SpoTrac, his market value is a $4.1 million average annual salary, a number that the Ravens would be more than happy to pay to take a chance on a player with such a high ceiling. If both sides could agree to a contract that makes them both happy the Ravens will be on their way to rebuilding their depleted pass catching options
Don’t rule out the New York Jets from signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins just yet. There have been rumors that both sides cannot see eye to eye on a contract, as the Jets reportedly offered his camp a two-year, $8 million dollar contract that ASJ declined. He is supposedly seeking something closer to $7 million a season. While his demands are a little out of hand, the Jets should not move on from him immediately. Tight ends at his age with his athleticism and skill set do not just grow on trees, especially ones who are just scratching the surface of their potential. With over $90 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com, the Jets have plenty of wiggle room to adjust their initial offer. Something like improving the guarantees in the contract may be able to get these two sides to see eye to eye.
The Seahawks are in the market for a TE of Seferian-Jenkins’ skill set with both Jimmy Graham and Luke Wilson scheduled to hit the market. With Seferian-Jenkins being from Fox Island, Washington, and having played college football for the Huskies, a move back home to Seattle would be very attractive to the 25-year-old. Having played a similar role to Graham before, ASJ would prove to be a cheaper and possibly more productive replacement- exactly what Seattle is looking for.
5. Cameron Brate (RFA), Buccaneers, (27)
Brate has been surprisingly productive, especially as a red-zone target for Jameis Winston, as he has 14 TDs for the Bucs in the last two seasons. He’s in a very unique situation in comparison to our other tight ends above. Unlike the players mentioned before, Brate is a Restricted Free Agent. He’s only a restricted free agent due to the NFL fine print — to have a season accrued toward free agency a player must be on roster for six weeks, and the Bucs promoted Brate for the last five games in 2014. So while he’s played in four NFL seasons, he only gets credit for three. Exclusive rights free agents are bound to their current teams once an offer has been tendered, so Brate should be back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unless he decides to go into a different line of work.
This is great for the Bucs because they could continue to develop O.J. Howard until he’s ready to step in and take over the starting role full time, a la Zach Ertz and Brent Celek.
Since this is a fun article and we can do whatever we want, lets bring in a very unlikely situation. If Cameron Brate were to be very unhappy and try to sit out the year, a team could potentially try to trade for for him. While I’m not sure what they would give in exchange for Brate, I could see the Dallas Cowboys making an offer for the TE. With Jason Witten not getting any younger, and the relatively unknown Rico Gathers still coming back from injury, the Cowboys are in the market for a TE. Brate would instill youth at the position, while also providing a veteran presence as well. It would be a great marriage if it were to ever happen.