Finishing the 2020 NFL free agency preview of available players, cut candidates, and landing spots, here is a look at the tight end position around the NFL landscape:
2020 FREE AGENTS
This is a loaded top group with Henry back healthy from injury and producing at a high level, Hooper having a monster season before his injury, and Ebron seeing a second life in Indianapolis after flaming out in Detroit during his rookie contract. Henry and Hooper are odds-on favorites to return to their respective depth charts considering their recent production and tenure with the team. Ebron is more likely to change teams (again) as an up-and-down option and already on his second franchise. Jack Doyle is also a free agent for the Colts. Similar career starts to Hunter Henry include Jason Witten and Evan Engram of note. Hooper and Ebron had similar career starts (through four-plus seasons), comparable to Jermichael Finley, Coby Fleener, Dustin Keller and a collection of less impressive historical names.
- Jack Doyle
- Jason Witten
- Vance McDonald
- Jordan Reed (Cut Candidate)
- Vernon Davis
- Blake Jarwin (Restricted)
Doyle joins Eric Ebron as the Colts will potentially lose their top two tight ends from 2019. Doyle has a been a solid, but unspectacular, option with minimal big-play ability and relying on volume in his big year of 2017 with a running back-like 80-690-4 stat line on 108 targets. Doyle may very well go back to a firm committee or even TE2 role upon free agency. Witten is on a similar per-game run of production in 2019 compared to 2017 before shifting to broadcasting for a season. Witten is still a red zone presence but after-the-catch production has been minimal for the past two seasons a la Tony Gonzalez in his mid-30s and beyond twilight.
McDonald is older than most would guess (turning 30 in 2020) and has been inconsistent during his career. McDonald's after-the-catch production has cratered this season and despite a clear run of the starting role, mired to a forgettable year. McDonald, like Doyle, could devolve to a secondary role in 2020. Jordan Reed may retire with a laundry list of injuries and missed games over the years. Plus, Reed's athletic prowess years ago is rather pedestrian when compared to the recent young tight end additions around the NFL. Davis could still provide a stopgap veteran bridge for a team grooming a young prospect but has lost a couple of steps since his last prominent season.
Jarwin is the most intriguing name of the tier, flashing with low volume this season. Jarwin could be the replacement for a retiring Jason Witten if sticking in Dallas, but also an under-the-radar name to track for potential Week 1 starting lineups in 2020 elsewhere.
BEST OF THE REST
- Tyler Eifert
- Tyler Kroft (Cut Candidate)
- Rhett Ellison (Cut Candidate)
- Nick Vannett
- Blake Bell
- Deon Yelder
Eifert is by far the biggest name of this tier. Injuries have been the biggest career roadblock for the former Round 1 pick, but the now-healthy Eifert has underwhelmed in 2019 despite playing every game, averaging barely 20 yards per game and sagging to a career-low yards-per-reception. Eifert is headed towards 30 years old and the luster of 'what if' regarding a healthy Eifert has rusted off his profile. At best Eifert gets a low-salary one-year deal for a stick-in-the-NFL-beyond-2020 type trajectory going forward.
The rest of the tier is a hodge-podge of backup types and marginal starters in their careers to-date. Kroft is a former Day 2 pick. Yelder has flashed some bigger-play ability in limited work with the Chiefs. Ellison has looked solid as the primary backup with the Giants and occasionally seeing starter work.
2020 tight end LANDING SPOTS
This tier features an obvious starter role available and, ideally, pairing with a solid or better quarterback. The Falcons, Chargers, Cowboys, and Colts could easily return their incumbent free agent from the above lists to reduce or eliminate their needs. The Patriots are wide open with a non-presence of the position in 2019 and Rob Gronkowski not returning for a late-season postseason run. Washington has been near-invisible at tight end with Jeremy Sprinkle their de facto starter. The Steelers could bounce back with Big Roethlisberger back in 2020 and minimal beyond projected free agents Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett.
best of the rest
Chris Herndon has been an upside name in his short career, but he was a Day 3 pick and missed 2019 with suspension and injury. The Jets need a passing game overhaul in general and, in addition to wide receiver, tight end could be an addition in the offseason. Arizona sparsely uses their tight ends, but Maxx Williams and Charles Clay has been a reclamation project pair in 2019 to offer little upside for 2020 and beyond. Cincinnati drafted Drew Sample as the most likely in-house starter for next season, but Sample has a boom-bust profile and barely played for a poor team before his own injury. Houston has a giant amalgam of tight ends between Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas. However, none have done enough to project as impactful options for future seasons.