2021 NFL Free Agency: Tight Ends
Over the past few weeks I have walked you through the NFL's free agency when it comes to the wide receiver and quarterback positions. This week we are keeping things rolling with the tight ends. There are some very interesting names in the TE pool that are looking for new contracts and new homes which should add to the excitement of this year's free agent landscape.
No position has evolved over the past two decades in the NFL as much as the tight end position. The days of tight ends acting as glorified offensive lineman who catch five-yard passes and get tackled immediately are over, as the new-age tight end is a souped-up athletic marvel who can catch like wide receivers, run like running backs and block like offensive tackles. This evolution has been occurring over the past two decades as names such as Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez have transformed the tight end position. In today’s game, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers reign supreme at the position. A quality tight end is a quarterback’s best friend and the best ones elevate offenses to unfathomable heights. Below, I take a look at the premier tight ends available in free agency along with some polarizing names certain to impact 2021 NFL free agency.
Top Free Agent Tight Ends:
Hunter Henry – Age: 26; Previous Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Though Henry’s career trajectory has ticked downwards the last two seasons, he’s proven to be a productive tight end with a very high floor as a chain-mover and reliable target. At 6’5, 250, he has the prototypical build for an elite tight end, though his lack of top-tier athleticism has been sapped by injuries the last three seasons and has prevented him from entering the upper echelon of tight ends. With a new quarterback in Justin Herbert last season, Henry’s stats weren’t gaudy by any means and it’s unlikely he commands a massive contract in free agency. Henry played last year on the franchise tag, making it unlikely he’s tagged again. Though plenty of teams will have interest (especially with the tight end position becoming one of increased emphasis), Henry will likely end up back with the Chargers and link up with Herbert for years to come.
Contract Prediction: Henry signs a three-year, $35 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jonnu Smith – Age: 25; Previous Team: Tennessee Titans
Smith is one of the most intriguing offensive free agents this offseason as his market will be determined by how much teams believe he can sustain his efficiency with an increased workload. This is especially true in the red zone, as Smith had the fourth most touchdowns among tight ends, despite ranking just 17th among the position group in targets. The past two seasons have been the most productive of his career and directly coincide with the career resurgence of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Buoyed by a limited number of players teams will view as having starting tight end potential, Smith will likely cash in during this free agency period. While the Titans would love to retain Smith, they have minimal salary cap space and need to allocate resources elsewhere – especially on the defensive side of the ball. Smith will still see plenty of the Titans but as a member of the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars, who are flush with cap space and have a desperate need for a tight end.
Contract Prediction: Smith signs a four-year, $52 million dollar contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Other Notable Free Agent Tight Ends
Gerald Everett – Age: 26; Previous Team: Los Angeles Rams
One of the more underrated tight ends in the NFL, Everett’s first chance at free agency will be his first chance to find a role where he can take over as the leading tight end in an offense that hopefully features a quarterback better suited to utilize his skillset. After being buried behind Tyler Higbee on an up-and-down Rams offense the past couple years, Everett could end up in the NFC West, with a reunion with former Rams passing coordinator and new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron being the best fit for him.
Potential Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals
Rob Gronkowski – Age: 31 Previous Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Listing Gronkowski as a “free agent” is a bit like describing Lord of the Rings as “a group spending ten hours returning jewelry” – it’s right, but only in a very technical sense. ‘Gronk,’ in fact, managed to acquire a ring this past month, so maybe the comparison is more apt than it seems. Lured out of retirement solely by the opportunity to play with Tom Brady once again, the pair rediscovered their old magic in balmy Southern Florida. Gronk’s contract will likely match Brady’s last remaining season and remain a one-year deal, as the Sunshine State’s favorite duo looks for another Lombardi trophy.
Potential Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jared Cook – Age: 33; Previous Team: New Orleans Saints
One of the older free agent at any position, Cook still has gas left in the tank as a big play and red zone threat. Averaging over 15 yards per reception and eight touchdowns in his past two seasons in New Orleans, Cook is a good fit for a team seeking veteran leadership and a downfield threat. A return to the Saints seems unlikely, especially after they drafted tight end Adam Trautman in last year’s draft, but Cook is sure to find a suitor looking for an inexpensive tight end option.
Potential Fit: Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots
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