With the Los Angeles Chargers suddenly finding themselves without a starting tight end after Hunter Henry’s torn ACL, there’s no better time to look at the free agent market and see who might be available.
There are some pretty solid guys still in the free agent wind, but I’ve whittled it down to the top four currently looking for gainful employment.
2017: 22 catches, 295 yards, two touchdowns
The tight end was practically forgotten for the New Orleans Saints last season and Fleener never even got an official start, in spite of being the most productive pass-catcher at the position on the team.
He missed the final five games of 2017 with a concussion and never could get back onto the field, even for the playoffs. He officially “failed his physical” when the Saints released him, but the 29-year old should be able to continue his career if he wants. Fleener is a smart player. He knows how to get open and can contribute in the run game.
Best fit: Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions
2017: 30 catches, 316 yards, three touchdowns
Gates is a first-ballot Hall of Famer so there’s really no reason he should feel the need to play another down of football after 15 seasons. Still, he’s in tremendous shape and can contribute. There’s no indication he’s hanging up his cleats.
A guy like Gates, though, must be wooed into the right situation. While it was clear the Los Angeles Chargers were ready to go young at the position, Henry’s torn ACL probably changes all that. There’s a good chance that 24 hours after posting this article, Gates will be back on the Chargers’ roster. Even if he’s not in Los Angeles’ plans, he will likely only sign with a contender or coach he really likes.
Best fit: Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars
2017: 41 catches, 388 yards, three touchdowns
Thomas was a touchdown machine with the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, but he’s never been able to replicate that production with another team since leaving Denver as a free agent in 2015. He’s been decent, but not spectacular. That’s why he’s out of a job.
Thomas has never been an elite blocker, so if he’s not going to catch five or six touchdowns for a team, he might find himself on his coach longer than expected. He had a solid season teamed back up with Adam Gase with the Miami Dolphins last year.
Best fit: Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks
2017: 30 catches, 286 yards, no touchdowns
Bennett played in only nine games last season due to injury for two different teams, the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. He’s 31 and as long as he’s healthy, is an NFL level starter for almost anybody.
If there are issues with Bennett, it’s with personality. He rubbed the Packers the wrong way by basically shutting himself down after Aaron Rodgers was out for the year. The fact that he decided to put off surgery once the Patriots signed him was a bad look.
Best fit: Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders
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