Top tight ends hitting free agency

Thomas Maney takes a look at the best free agent tight ends on the market this offseason.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Top tight ends hitting free agency

Several big-name tight ends are set to hit free agency this offseason, and teams should have a good selection to consider, whether they’re looking for blocking or receiving help. Here are PFF’s top tight ends hitting the free agent market:

1. Ladarius Green

2015 team: San Diego Chargers

Green, who will be 26 at the start of the season, graded well in limited snaps over the last three seasons. He was on the field for 686 plays in 2015, lining up both inline and in the slot with a career-high 37 receptions. Green provides a solid threat after the catch – his average of 6.0 yards after the catch ranked in the top 15 at the position, as did his five forced missed tackles. Slightly inconsistent as a blocker, but has shown capability there, particularly in 2013.

2. Zach Miller

2015 team: Chicago Bears

Miller is an interesting case — he was drafted in 2009 but to this point has only logged 1109 career snaps, and in 2015, he saw his first regular season playing time since 2011. He enjoyed a solid year in Chicago, posting the seventh-highest receiving grade among TEs while catching 81 percent of passes thrown his way and forcing 11 missed tackles – both figures ranked among the top ten at the position. Miller was particularly great late in the year with 18 of his 34 catches coming during the three-game stretch from Week 14 to 16. It will be interesting to see what happens given that he’s over 30 years old with a somewhat lackluster career resume and last season graded negatively as a run blocker. Teams could see his low mileage as a positive trait, however, and based on his play in 2015, Miller can definitely contribute in the passing game.

3. Craig Stevens

2015 team: Tennessee Titans

Any team looking for a run-blocking specialist should consider Stevens, who’s graded positively as a blocker for six straight seasons and in 2015 ranked second among TEs there. He’s also coming off of a career-high receiving grade after catching 12-of-13 targets, although this is the first season he’s graded positively in the passing game. There are few tight ends who provide the blocking that Stevens does, so his skill set should garner some attention even if he doesn’t offer much as a receiver.

4. Coby Fleener

2015 team: Indianapolis Colts

Coming off of his rookie contract, Fleener caught more than 50 receptions and 80 targets in each of the last three seasons. He’s graded mostly above-average as a receiver, though had a down year in 2015 and is less of a threat after the catch than several other players on this list. As a blocker, he’s been inconsistent, looking more adept at blocking in space on screen passes than at the point of attack in the run game.

5. Jermaine Gresham

2015 team: Arizona Cardinals

Gresham is back on this list after playing one year in Arizona, where he was far less involved in the passing game than he’d been in Cincinnati. Last season he caught just 18 passes, down from an average of 58 over his first five years. Even with that production, Gresham still finished with a below average receiving grade in five of six seasons, although he consistently ranked among the most elusive tight ends with 56 broken tackles in his career. He graded much better as a blocker over that span, and maintained that consistency in 2015 with solid grades in screen and run blocking. Age is a factor as well – he’ll be 28 at the start of next season.

6. Rhett Ellison

2015 team: Minnesota Vikings

Much like Green, Ellison has graded well with a somewhat low snap count over the last four seasons. What makes Ellison different is that he’s more of a blocking specialist, spending most of his spans lined up inline or in the backfield with solid run blocking grades over his career. When the ball is thrown his way, he’s been roughly average. Notably, Ellison tore his patellar tendon in week 17 which will likely scare some teams off. Also concerning is that he’s graded a bit worse each year after an outstanding rookie campaign in 2012.

7. Ben Watson

2015 team: New Orleans Saints

The offseason departure of Jimmy Graham from the Saints resulted in a career receiving year for the 35 year-old Watson, who caught 74 of 102 targets for 825 yards and six touchdowns in 1,003 snaps (all career-highs). Much of his work came as a blocker early in his career, but he’s fallen sharply there over the last two seasons and in 2015 ranked as the third-worst run blocker of 73 qualifying tight ends. Even so, Watson clearly still has something to offer at his age after a season during which he made several spectacular catches for the Saints.

8. Marcedes Lewis

2015 team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Lewis declined slightly over the last two seasons, posting below-average grades as both a blocker and receiver, but prior to that was consistently positive from 2007 to 2013. He’s elusive in the passing game with an average of more than eight yards after the catch per reception over the last three seasons (9.9 in 2015) and over his career forced at least 10 missed tackles several times. His blocking has been even better, whether it’s in pass protection or run blocking. If he can regain his early season form, Lewis should provide a solid short term option in all facets and at worst can still provide value as a blocker.

More positional free agent lists:

Running backs
– Interior defenders
Free agency tracker

  • dlund6cutler

    Zach Miller is the best TE in the NFC…. well in the north he is

    • dustin shepler

      It’s too early to be drinking.

      • dlund6cutler

        who is better then him?

        • Zachary Mills

          Is he better than Bennett on his own team?

          • dlund6cutler

            I think Bennett might be, but miller isn’t a problem in the locker room and whining about a new contract like Bennett always does.

          • crosseyedlemon

            As long as I can remember the Bears front office has always taken some twisted pleasure in making their players grovel for more money. They even gave Butkus a hard time towards the end of his stellar career.

        • dustin shepler

          Ebron Rudolph and Rogers. Miller has had a good half of a season. If he does it for a full season maybe you can give him that title.

          • dlund6cutler

            WHAT?? Ebron is terrible and Miller did better in the last half of the season then he did the entire year. And some people can make an argument about Rudolph or Rogers, but EBRON!!

          • dustin shepler

            I would take all three over Miller until he proves himself for a full season. There is always a few one hit wonders that get paid and then go back into hibernation. You are a Bears fan so I would expect you to defend Miller. He could up being on top but I can’t put the guy in the hall of fame based off a half a season.

          • dlund6cutler

            I’m not saying he’s a hall of famer and yeah i’m a bears fan so of course I’m going to defend my own team, but i just think Ebron stinks.

          • Guest

            I’m a Packers fan and I think saying Ebron stinks is absurd. I wish we could trade R. Rodgers for him. Kyle Rudolph is probably the best TE in the NFC North, and if he had a better QB, he’d more than have the numbers to back it up. He has been highly underutilized in Minnesota. Martellus Bennett had a rough year with injuries, but healthy he’s probably #2. Eric Ebron #3. Zach Miller had a few good games, but Eric Ebron is definitely the more talented player.

          • dlund6cutler

            Alright that’s your opinion, I just don’t like him.

          • Guest

            I’m a Packers fan, and I’d rather have Miller than Rodgers. R. Rodgers isn’t a good player. He’s just way too slow and lacks any quickness or athleticism. Rudolph or Ebron are the 2 best in the division though.

        • Tim Edell

          Lol that isn’t saying much but I would much rather have the upside of Ebron then a soon to be 32 year old TE who has played 1 season in the last 4. Their was a report he was seeking 4-5 million a year which is laughable!

          • dlund6cutler

            Well I get who you would rather have in the future, but what has Ebron Accomplished in his first two years.

          • Tim Edell

            2015 stats… Zach Miller 34 catches 439 yards 5 TDs. 2015 Eric Ebron 47 catches 537 yards TDs.

          • dlund6cutler

            So because Julian Edelman had more yards and touchdowns then Dez Bryant does that mean he’s better or how Stafford had a better passer rating and more TD’s then Rodgers does that make him better. And Ebron had 613 snaps on the field to Zachs 579 snaps. And lets not forget who is a better blocker and pro football focus has him top ten and Ebrons not even close to him.

          • Tim Edell

            Miller is 31 and has had 1/2 season of good football. If you ghink he dederves the 4/5 million a season he wants your even a worse HOMER Junior then I gave you credit for!!

          • dlund6cutler

            I never said he deserved 4/5 million I just said he’s better then Ebron.

  • crosseyedlemon

    What Antonio Gates lacks in blocking he more than makes up for with experience. He would probably be a good assistant coach after his career ends.

  • Backinmd

    Gates is getting long in the tooth ..He had a great career …

  • Mattia Rizzo

    For how much it would be interesting to see Green in New England pairing with Gronk I don’t see him really testing the FA if not for a clear preference from San Diego to draft a TE, he has been in the team for a while, he might very well end up replacing Gates.

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    • Guest

      Chargers messed up not already locking up Green. Now he has no incentive not to text the market, and now if SD wants him back, they’re gonna have to pay. His services will be sought after, and it won’t take Ertz or Kelce money, but Green is gonna be in for a nice pay day.

  • Bill Doerr

    I think the Cardinals will look to re-sign Gresham 3 to 3.5 million/yr on Gresham over 3-4 years. . a TE who excels blocking , especially run blocking but who also is a good receiver . I could see them looking at TE’s like F/A & EX Colt 6″3/265 pound TE Dwayne Allen who Cardinals Head Coach BA played a major role in drafting. Allen is both very good blocker ( Though struggled last year but that was due to many reasons including injury & the face IND due to their horrible O-Line used Allen as a blocker 90% of the time which is the reason his receiving totals were not high n 2015, as well as problems at the QB position) and an even better receiving TE. Due to his down season last year and games missed over injuries ( But is just 25 & has a TON of talent w/ a VERY high ceiling) Arizona could likely sign him to a multi year deal at a modest price or he might opt for a 1 year “prove it” deal banking on putting together a monster season and signing a multi year deal n 2017 for more money. Ladarius Green is another young TE who is both first a very good blocking Tight-End and also a very, very good receiving TE. TE Craig Stevens is an older TE, but given he ranked as the 5th best TE overall in the NFL w/ a +1.2 grade receiving but a monsterous +8.3 run blocking grade & plus +9.8 grade overall I could see Arizona signing him to a 1-2 year deal as he is exactly the type of TE Arians looks for in his offense , Stevens is an Elite blocker esp in the run game & an AVG pass catching TE…

    Arizona is going to have an extremely strong Tight-End unit Next-Year, Very Solid unit starting with a mountain of man in the extremely powerful 6″7 1/2in/270 pound TE Darren Fells. Fells w/ a positive +1.3 grade ranked as a receiver ranked 22nd of 73 ranked TE’s, He is a excellent receiver but only had 28 targets all season long putting up 21 Receptions(just 2 drops for 315 Yards, 14.9 yard/AVG per reception/ 141 YAC/YDs & put up 3 TDs. Arizona needs to get Fells involved in the passing game a lot more next year especially in the red-zone ( Gresham as well) as he has excellent hands & is a very good receiver & 6″7 w/ a 35in vertical jump aint no one covering him in the red-zone.

    6″5 TE Jermaine Gresham ranked 19th of 73 ranked TEs in 2015 & was one of the best run blocking TEs ranking 8th of 73 ranked TE’s w/ a +4.4 overall grade but was hardly thrown at w/ just 25 targets with 18 receptions for 225 yards, 12.4 YD/AVG per reception along with 2TDs. Gresham is a Excellent Pro-Bowl caliber TE who Arizona definitely needs to get A LOT MORE involved in the passing game next season if he is re-signed, which I think he will be unless he goes elsewhere for more money which if he did then AZ would most definitely sign a TEArizona also has two young TEs who both have extremely talented futures starting with the cousin of OLB Clay Matthews & that is 6″7/270 pound TE Troy Niklas who AZ drafted in the 2nd round of 2014. Niklas played defense is entire career , playing TE for only 2 Years, 12/13, when AZ Drafted him. The year before in 2013 Niklas was one of the top TEs in college putting up 32 rec’s for 512 yards, 15.0 YD/AVG & 5TDs. This last season he caught every pass thrown his way putting up 2 TDs. Niklas will have a much bigger role next season , he is an excellent receiver & very good route runner w/ 4.6 speed with a very big body that he knows how to use to box defenders out receiving . Niklas came out of school VERY young , playing TE only in college so he needed some refinement & development for a few years & he has came along away improving a ton since being drafted, Niklas will be a BEAST next year.

    Arizona got an absolute STEAL in RD-7 drafting 6″3/265 pound TE out of Louisville w/ a 4th round grade Tight-End Gerald Christian!!! Christian can outright play , he is a excellent receiver with monster 10 3/4in Hands & has nice speed running a 4.69 speed & is also a excellent blocker who double as a Full Back, and back it up as he is a excellent blocking FB.Christian is also a excellent route runner . He made the Team & was going to be one of the starting TEs, and then in the last pre season game BOOM tore his ACL which was a big big dissapoint losing the guy all season long… Christian will be back though this next 2016 season though & think he will

    • PackMaster

      Hard to get a TE heavily involved in Arizona with their great crop of WRs and David Johnson.

  • Jack

    Does Antonio Gates still want to play?