2021 Free Agent Tight Ends
CARSON, CA – OCTOBER 22: Darian Stewart #26 of the Denver Broncos interferes with the pass from Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter at the StubHub Center on October 22, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends

2021 Free Agent Tight Ends

Hello Heat Seekers, welcome to episode 129 of Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast.  I am you host; I am Rob Sullivan.  The Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast is a proud member of the RotoHeat family of podcasts.

In Episode 129, I wrap-up the four-part series that takes an early look at the Free Agent class of 2021, and today we are talking the TE position. As usual I will be looking  at it from a fantasy perspective and give you my two cents on where I think the available RBs are best situated.

Of all the skilled positional players that come up for free agency the Tight End position is typically the least interesting especially from a fantasy perspective.  The number of Tight Ends that are available on a year-to-year basis is typically a lot less than the running backs and the wide receivers, and most TEs regardless of their contract status don’t move the fantasy needle.  But hey as long as leagues keep featuring the TE, I will keep talking about them.

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At first glance the teams that don’t need to add a TE far outweigh the teams that do.  As lackluster as the TE position is in fantasy football, it might be the best it has been in recent memory and in fact maybe ever. This season there are several fantasy relevant Tight Ends that are due to hit the market. 

Starting with the free agent TEs that I believe will struggle to find a deal with a NFL club, and at the very least will have to wait well into the offseason.

Trey Burton

Trey Burton finished the 2020 season as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.  He totaled 28 catches for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games.  Burton has played in seven seasons in the NFL and will turn 31 during the 2021 season.

In 2018 fresh off a Super Bowl ring and a game changing TD pass, Burton signed a $32 million contract, $18 million of which was guaranteed.  Burton failed to impress and was released by Chicago and latched on with the Colts on a one-year league minimum type deal last April.  It is possible that Burton signs on as a back up plan for a TE needy team this offseason and I wouldn’t rule out retirement for him either.  Regardless he shouldn’t be looked at as a TE that teams will seek to add instead, he’s one they may have to settle for.

Jacob Hollister

On the surface, Jacob Hollister would appear to be in a good spot with the Seattle Seahawks.  Greg Olsen has retired and as a result opened up a spot and a need at TE for the Seahawks. 

Hollister regressed from his career best totals in 2019, in 2020.  He concluded his 4th pro season with 25 catches for 209 yards and he scored three touchdowns.  Hollister is a backup TE, and a TE that very well may retain that role in Seattle in 2021.  My best guess is he will be waiting well into the offseason to secure a contract.

Richard Rodgers

2020 was Richard Rodgers 7th season in the NFL, and third as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.  His 2020 season saw a little pop when both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert was out with injury.  Other than that, Rodgers is best known for his TD catch on a Hail-Mary from Aaron Rodgers back in 2017. Rodgers is entering his age 30 season in 2021, a season in which he will land on a roster in a heavy blocking backup type role. 

Jordan Reed

Had I put this piece together a year ago, I would have pegged Jordan Reed for retirement and dare I say I would not have been alone in that thought.

Reed prior to the 2020 season played 6 seasons in Washington.  In those 6 seasons Reed missed 21 games due to injury.  According to Sports Injury Predictor, Reed has had 24 injures in his 7 year career – 7 concussions, 5 hamstring injuries, 4 toes aliments and 3 knee injuries to go along with a pair of leg injuries, a separated shoulder, a bruised chest and a thumb sprain. 

Good god man hang them up, the 7 head injuries alone should put him on the sidelines for good for his own wellbeing.  His play further indicates its time to shut it down.  Playing for the 49ers last season a season that he played almost all his games without George Kittle amounting to 26/231/4. At times in his career Reed was a top fantasy TE, all good things come to an end and this ending is long overdue in my opinion.

Alright let’s talk about some Tight Ends that I do believe are attractive on the free agency market and as fantasy assets on our rosters. 

Mo Alie-Cox (ERFA)

Mo Alie-Cox  is an Exclusive rights free agent.  An ERFA is any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract and the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.

So safe to say that regardless of Cox’s desire to go anywhere else (not saying he has any), he will be back with the Indianapolis Colts. From a fantasy perspective I believe this is a good thing.  Try Burton in all likelihood will be gone and Jack Doyle is less and less impactful with each turn of the calendar. Cox had flashes of fantasy relevance in 2020.  He finished the season with 39 targets, 31 receptions, 394 receiving yards and two touchdowns, all career high totals.    

Hunter Henry

Henry played the 2020 season on the franchise tag.  The Chargers made it known that signing Henry last season was a priority and in the end after failing to secure a long-term agreement he played on the tag. Henry was good in 2020, with TE friendly QB Philip Rivers off to Indianapolis, Henry held his own in the Justin Herbert offense. 60 catches 613 yards and 4 touchdowns in 14 games. 

Entering the offseason with a new coaching staff its not as clear as a year ago what the priority is for the Chargers.  I would guess that its not Hunter Henry although I do believe that they would prefer to retain his services.

Franchise tenders are calculated by adding the respective tag numbers, divided by the sum of the salary caps, from the previous five seasons, and  multiplied by the current season’s salary cap. Franchise tag figures are based upon the top five salaries at each respective position, while transition tag figures are based on the top ten.

This is where this gets very interesting for me in terms of Double H.  Henry is making $10.607 million this season, a second franchise tag at $12,728,400 may be appealing for the Chargers to ensure that Justin Herbert doesn’t lose a weapon in the passing game. Whether Henry can benefit from George Kittle re-setting the tight end market in August at $15 million per year remains to be seen. Henry likely will be on the lookout for a deal comparable to the four-year, $42 million contract with $23 million in guarantees Austin Hooper received from the Browns in free agency a season ago.

The Chargers currently sit with a shade over $19.5MM in cap space with 48 contracts secured.  They have the cap room to make this work if need be, but in the end, I don’t think they do.  There is another TE I believe the Chargers add (that I will get to later), to join Second year former XFL TE Donald Parham. 

I believe Henry heads to market and the team that I believe has him in the cross hairs is the New England Patriots. The Pats have been the worst team in the league two years running at the TE position.  They need pass catchers and they need Hunter Henry.  They also need a viable starting QB and I suggest that they get that squared away ASAP, as without a QB they wont land Hunter Henry.

2021Free Agent Tight Ends
NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 11: Jonnu Smith #81 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball while defended by Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Nissan Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends

Jonnu Smith

Jonnu Smith sat and waited for his opportunity in Tennessee while Delanie Walker got the starts and targets.  After the 2019 season, the Titans released Walker and Jonnu Smith saw his value spike in the fantasy community, and rightfully so. 

Smith ladies and gentlemen is one hell of a TE.  He is a TE that I ranked as a top-12 fantasy asset a year ago, and I was damn close to being correct.  Smith finished 2020 with 41 catches for 448 yards and 8 touchdowns in 15 games.  The game he missed due to an ankle injury also impacted him in his first game back.  In essence Smith posted those totals in 14 games this season.

He will be a player the Titans seek to bring back.  Tennessee currently sits $7.6MM over the proposed 2021 salary cap, with 55 players under contract and a very shitty defense.  The luxury of Jonnu Smith in their offense is likely one that they can not afford.  

Instead, I have Smith heading to Jacksonville with current teammate Corey Davis as I personally rebuild the Jags offense.  Imagine the Jags with Trevor Lawrence, James Robinson and DJ Chark, adding Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith.  Jacksonville has a reported $77,514,963 in cap space and a boat load of draft picks.  We might all need to prepare for a world where the Jags are good very soon.

Robert Tonyan (RFA)

I will get this out of the way here and state that I believe Robert Tonyan who is a restricted FA will be back with the Green Bay Packers. 

Tonyan had himself a breakout season in 2020.  52 receptions on 59 targets for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. To put it into perspective his career that is now 43 games old, he has totaled 80 targets 66 catches 763 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

74% of his targets, 79% of his receptions, 77% of his yardage and 85% of his career touchdowns came in 2020. Aaron Rodgers loves Robert Tonyan and Robert Tonyan loves Aaron Rodgers.  There is no reason for Tonyan to want to leave and even less reason for the Packers to want to move on from him.

Now he is an RFA so the Packers will tender him and if a team wants him bad enough, I suppose he could leave, and the Packers would receive draft pick compensation equivalent to the tender they place on him. At the end of the day, I expect Tonyan back with Arron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

2021 Free Agent Tight Ends
TAMPA, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 18: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by Oren Burks #42 of the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski

This one is simple really.  Gronk does one of two things next season, A. He retires and resumes his party hard lifestyle and pursuit of WWE championship gold, or he returns to join his BFF Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  My thought has always been that if the Bucs were to win the Super Bowl in 2020, Gronk would be one and done with Brady and Arians, if they didn’t, he would come back for another shot at a tile. Well, they did win the Super Bowl and Gronk has already stated that he is coming back, So clearly, I was wrong in my initial thinking.

Gronkowski is not the Gronk that ruled the TE landscape for years.  What he has become is a situational red zone TE that is an exceptional blocking TE.  Does he have enough left in the tank for another run, I think he does, and more importantly so do the Bucs.

Dan Arnold

Now I’ll admit when one thinks about free agent TEs, Dan Arnold is not  exactly a sexy name.  Arnold in his three seasons has spilt time between the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals.  His career numbers won’t wow anyone – 51 catches 715 yards and 7 touchdowns in 31 games, but honestly at TE you could do a lot worse.

Arnold was a UDFA by the Saints in 2017 and converted into a TE from WR.  Arnold did very little in his time as a Saint and was placed on waivers in December of 2019.  The Arizona Cardinals claimed Arnold and his career with Arizona although not spectacular has been much more relevant that his time in New Orleans.

Arnold had by far his best season in 2020.  He saw 45 targets in 2020, he had seen a total of 47 in the two seasons prior.  Arnold hauled in 31 of those targets for 438 yards and he scored 4 times. 

I would anticipate that the Cardinals bring Arnold back.  The TE is not an overly targeted position in the Kliff Kingsbury air raid offense, but Arnold has proven to be serviceable when called upon.  This isn’t much of a fantasy relevant player but in TE premium leagues he may be a guy you can plug and play in a pinch.

Jared Cook

Jared Cook is a veteran of 12 NFL seasons with stops in Tennessee, St. Louis, Green Bay, Oakland and most recently New Orleans. He has 505 career receptions; 6673 receiving yards and he has scored  41 touchdowns.  Safe to say Jared Cook has had a nice NFL career.

A career that is almost certainly done in New Orleans.  The Saints reportedly have $259MM committed to 2021 and the salary cap is projected to be $180MM.  You don’t need to me a math major to see they are in a world of hurt. I believe the Saints move forward with 2020 rookie Adam Trautman and a few other supporting assets.

Cook who will be 34 when the 2021 season kicks off could very well retire, but I believe he has one more season in him.  I believe that season is spent in Tennessee with the Titans, back filling the Jonnu Smith vacancy.  In Tennessee Cook will support Anthony Firkser in the Titans offense.  I wouldn’t expect much in terms of fantasy production from Cook going forward but he should have a red zone role if nothing else.

Gerald Everett

I’ll wrap this up with Gerald Everett, who I teased earlier when discussing Hunter Henry.  Simply put I expect Gerald Everett to join the Los Angles Chargers this offseason. Joining the Chargers will be rather beneficial for Everett and his fantasy value.  You see, Gerald Everett as a Charger is a top-12 fantasy TE, and maybe higher. 

That may seem like a bold prediction in terms of Everett’s fantasy value but hey, that is what I tend to do from time to time.  In four seasons with the Rams,  Everett has fantasy finishes of TE43, 22, 26, and 24.  In 2019 everyone remembers the season that Tyler Higbee had.  Higbee that season went berserk the final 5 games of the season and ended up as TE8 overall.

See what most forget is that it was Gerald Everett that was enjoying a nice 2019 campaign prior to injury that gave Higbee the chance to break out.  Everett was injured in week 8 in 2019, and at the time he was TE10, Higbee was TE29.  Once Higbee had the roll to himself he took off and nobody was sitting Higbee with him being as hot as he was.

The reality is Gerald Everett is a good football player and he is a good athlete.  In a Chargers offense with Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler he would have his best season to date.

That’s going to do it for today’s episode.  Thank you for listening to the 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends episode.

If you have yet to subscribe to Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast you can do so by searching for it pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found. In addition, you can find me on twitter @RotoHeatSully, in both the RotoHeat Dynasty Fantasy Football Community , and RotoHeat Redraft Fantasy Football Community on Facebook and I am @Sully in our Discord chat as well.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the RotoHeat YouTube Channel if you haven’t already. The team is hard at work developing content for rookiedraftguide.com and Brad Menendez is starting to drop his 2021 player profiles. You want to make sure you visit rookiedraftguide.com and you certainly don’t want to miss Brad’s profiles on YouTube.

I’ll be back next week as we take my first look at top-10 Rookies in this year’s draft class. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy Heat Seekers.