(CBS Local/CBS SF) The NFL’s new league year begins on Wednesday, March 13th, and teams can begin officially signing free agents at that point. (They can negotiate beginning on March 11th.) As with every year, there are some big names hitting the market. So over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the top free agents available at each position, while trying to pair them with the teams that need them the most.
The tight end has become a valuable option in today’s offense, often providing matchup nightmares that offensive coordinators love to exploit. However, outside of the top-tier of guys, most tight ends don’t offer much to separate themselves from the others. That makes the free agent market at the position hard to judge. In theory, everyone would like to add another reliable pass-catching target, but there are also some good, young prospects available in the draft.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert’s career has been horribly interrupted by injury time and time again. He has played in eight games or more just three times in his six-year career. Of those three times, only twice (2013 and 2015) has he surpassed 13 games played. That is all to say that Eifert is an injury risk for any team that signs him. So, in all likelihood, some kind of one-year prove-it deal is in play here.
But, if you get Eifert on the field, he’s a potent weapon. He has averaged 12.1 yards per reception in his career and has had a catch rate in the 60-70 percent range. The last three years have been stolen from him by injury, but last year’s broken ankle happened early (late-September) and he has had plenty of time to recover. There were some reports that the Cowboys would be interested, but with Jason Witten returning to Dallas, one wonders whether they would take Eifert over some of the younger, cheaper options on their roster. There are teams with young quarterbacks that could make some sense (Bills, Texans, etc.) or teams that would take a shot as a second option. Overall, as boring as it is, the best fit is probably back in Cincinnati.
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders
Cook had the best season of his career last year for Oakland, and the team reportedly expects him to test free agency. He had four 100-yard games and one five-catch 74-yard performance last year. Outside of those five games, he failed to top 52 yards in any other game. He has proven to be a boom-or-bust option, but the booms are spectacular.
A long-term deal is unlikely since he will be 32 when the 2019 season starts, but he could help a team in need of a receiving weapon as they make a playoff push. One team that stands out is the Tennessee Titans, Cook’s former team. The Titans didn’t have a truly consistent option at the tight end spot last season, and Cook would offer Marcus Mariota another option outside of Corey Davis and, occasionally, Taywan Taylor, to throw to.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Seferian-Jenkins has had his share of off-field issues in his young career, but he has mostly stayed out of trouble recently. Last season, he struggled to play through hernia tears that he sustained in training camp before having his season ended after five games. The Jaguars declined his contract option, so now he enters free agency with plenty of question marks, like a lot of guys on the free agent tight end list.
Despite the questions, there are some teams with needs at the tight end spot, and one that immediately comes to mind is the Denver Broncos. The production from Denver’s tight ends was… lacking in 2018, with Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Matt LaCosse, and Brian Parker combining for 68 catches for 649 yards and three touchdowns. Heuerman, LaCosse and Parker are all free agents, and Butt is coming off another ACL injury. ASJ could at least offer another weapon for new quarterback Joe Flacco.