Published On: Thu, Mar 1st, 2018

Top 7 free-agent tight ends

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Tight end is quite a bit less glamorous than other positions on the offensive side of the football, but the 2018 free-agent class contains a handful of candidates capable of offering a significant boost to the right system.

Here’s a look at the seven best tight ends set to reach the open market March 14.

7. Virgil Green

2017 Team: Broncos
2017 Salary: $2.8 million
2017 Stats: 191 yards, 1 TD

Green has rarely been used as a pass-catcher through his first seven years in the league. He sports career totals of 71 receptions on just 103 targets, racking up 807 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn’t scored more than one touchdown in any one season. He is, however, an excellent pass-blocker. The 29-year-old was ranked fourth by Pro Football Focus in that area last season. That ability can keep him on the field in key situations.

6. Ed Dickson

2017 Team: Panthers
2017 Salary: $1.95 million
2017 Stats: 437 yards, 1 TD

Dickson started 12 games last season while Greg Olsen dealt with injuries. The eight-year vet recorded his most receiving yards since his sophomore season, but managed just a single touchdown. Like Green, Dickson excelled as a blocker, ranking as PFF’s No. 1 pass-blocking tight end. Teams could turn to him as an inexpensive addition to the offensive line.

5. Antonio Gates

2017 Team: Chargers
2017 Salary: $4.5 million
2017 Stats: 316 yards, 3 TDs

Gates finally showed some signs of decline in 2017, posting his lowest yardage total ever and his fewest touchdowns since his rookie season. The soon-to-be 38-year-old did have a strong finish to his 15th season with a couple of scores late in the year. He’s said he doesn’t plan to retire, but it’s unclear if the Chargers would bring him back, since Hunter Henry is already more productive.

4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins

2017 Team: Jets
2017 Salary: $1,061,582
2017 Stats: 357 yards, 3 TDs

Seferian-Jenkins was a key part of a Jets passing game that seemed to begin the 2017 season bereft of viable options. He set career highs with 50 receptions and 357 yards, and his three touchdowns were his most since his sophomore season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He made 10 starts over 13 games played, and did his best to dispel concerns about the off-field issues that plagued his first three seasons. A former second-round pick, he likely did enough to show other teams he still has that upside.

3. Trey Burton

2017 Team: Eagles
2017 Salary: $2.746 million
2017 Stats: 248 yards, 5 TDs

Rising to fame for the touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII, Burton is a promising tight end by conventional standards too. He was ranked No. 13 by PFF while serving as Zach Ertz’s backup, and he’s averaging 10.0 yards per reception for his career with six (receiving) touchdowns in 61 games, but just five starts. He could excel if given a larger opportunity elsewhere.

2. Tyler Eifert

2017 Team: Bengals
2017 Salary: $4.782 million
2017 Stats: 46 yards, 0 TD (2 games played)

If only Eifert had been able to stay healthy for the entire 2017 season. The 21st overall pick of the 2013 draft, Eifert’s managed to play just 39 NFL games. In 2015, the last time he played more than eight games, he made the Pro Bowl. He’s scored touchdowns at a rate better than 0.5 per game with an average of 12.1 yards per reception. Though he’s averaged just 39.4 yards per contest, his frequent early departures have to be factored in. Whichever team can pick him up this spring on a ‘prove-it’ deal will get a true difference-maker – if he can stay on the field.

1. Jimmy Graham

2017 Team: Seahawks
2017 Salary: $7.9 million
2017 Stats: 520 yards, 10 TDs

In a weird year for Graham, he reached a four-year high with 10 touchdowns, but caught just 59.4 percent of his targets, the lowest figure of his eight-year career. He’s coming off a second consecutive Pro Bowl honor (his fifth overall). It’s rare for a tight end with his accolades and type of red-zone production to become available in free agency. He’ll have little trouble cashing in big, despite weaknesses.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(Contract figures courtesy: Over the Cap)

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